With all the talk about violence going on elsewhere in the world, perhaps in the spirit of intellectual honesty (and avoidance of rank hypocrisy) it is prudent to turn inward and look at how violence is part our own lives. More subtle than flying airplanes into buildings…we can be violent even in the ways we consume and throw away things (and people we treat as things) on a daily basis.
But sometimes the violence in which we participate isn’t so subtle after all.
It is a late Saturday morning. And, for me anyway, its not nearly as good of a late Saturday morning as it could be…simply because there is no football to watch this afternoon. I’m serious. But isn’t this just a bit pathological given what we learned this week about the brain of suicide victim, and former Notre Dame and Chicago Bears defensive back, Dave Duerson?
We know late Bears safety Dave Duerson’s brain was damaged and deteriorating from head blows he received while playing football.
What we don’t know is whether he was hurt more than other NFL players of his era, whether he had a predisposition to lasting brain damage, whether he unknowingly reached a certain cumulative ‘‘tipping point’’ that put his brain over the edge or when the effects of the blows to his head kicked in and made him unstable and demented.
Oh, and depressed. Certainly, no one who is not depressed shoots himself in the heart with a handgun.
Duerson’s death and subsequent brain analysis are almost the stuff of fiction. No one but Duerson has committed suicide in a fashion that would preserve his most intricate and sacred organ for study while acknowledging that it was his brain that was malfunctioning.
Indeed, Duerson was closely involved with the NFL’s disability board and knew more about the ravages of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) than most.
And the other thing we don’t know is what the certainty of Duerson’s cognitive impairment means to the millions of boys and young men who play football at levels far below the NFL.
But it sure means something.
What if what it means is that we shouldn’t watch or otherwise support American football anymore? I’ve said many times that football is so beautiful because it combines brute force and raw caveman violence with the most complicated chess match you could ever imagine. In light of the effect this violence is clearly having on the people who play the game, how can I possibly make this claim anymore? How can I delight (and I do) when the quarterback from the opposing team takes a blindside hit and his neck snaps back? Or when a safety reads a crossing route perfectly and absolutely hammers the wide-receiver just as the ball gets there? Perhaps my favorite kind of violence in football is when, on a lead-dive play, the fullback and the inside linebacker gather as much momentum as they possibly can and absolutely smash each other at the point of attack. And I don’t think I’m alone in this…the XFL was designed precisely to react against the little the NFL was doing to protect its players from such violence. Many of my fellow fans get upset at the new penalties created for hitting players in the head, or plays stopped ‘early’ (that is, before a player takes the massive hit they have coming to them).
Is this sick? Obviously wrong? Do our Christian leaders need to step up and condemn fellow Christians for participating in and supporting this kind of violence?
It wouldn’t be the first time. In the Church’s early history a major issue was the fact that Christians were spectators at the Roman gladiatorial games. Important Church fathers like Tertullian, Gregory of Nazianzen, and Basil lambasted Christians for going to the games. (Though it didn’t stop many of them, some were even threatened with excommunication for attending.) In his book Emperors and Gladiators, Thomas Wiedemann explains that these critics were worried in particular about the effect that watching this violence would have on the spectators.
The Church fathers were wise to worry about this with regard to the gladiatorial games, but what effect is American football (to say nothing of the national embarrassment that is mainstream viewing of the ultimate fighting championships) having on millions and millions of its spectators? Are we perhaps more likely to resort to violence to solve problems? Are we less likely to see alternatives to violence?
Perhaps football explains America in ways with which we should start becoming far more uncomfortable.