So apparently a sporting event took place last night. I didn’t watch.
Now, those who know me might guess it was because I was still upset over the Packers’ inexplicable and epic collapse in the NFC championship game two weeks ago. Or perhaps it had something to do with the two unbelievably unlikable head coaches at the helm of this year’s AFC and NFC champions.
Of course this had something to do with it, but it served as the final motivation for something I wanted to do for some time anyway. The Superbowl is one of the high holy days of American civil religion: one in which we pay special homage to our gods of violence, food, alcohol, and consumerism.
Furthermore, the NFL has been on thin ice with respect to a number of other issues. Our Nichole Flores blogged yesterday about the serious problems related to its hyper-masculinity, particularly with respect violence outside the game. Also seriously problematic is the violence inherent in the game itself. During the Packers’ Superbowl run in 1996, Mike Holmgren famously made speeches to his players which finished with the tag-line, “Football is about kicking someone’s ass!” Players responded with raucous cheers and a fever pitch energy that was brought out of the tunnel and onto a field where they would do precisely this.
Last night, Patriots wide-receiver Julian Edelman went over the middle against the famous “legion of boom” secondary…and took yet another monster-shot to the head. Think Progress has a nice write-up on what happened next. A Detroit Free-Press reporter notes that he hears the independent physician in charge say that Edelman must be checked for a concussion. This procedure takes at least 8-12 minutes. But not only does Edelman not come out of the game, shortly thereafter he scores a go-ahead touchdown. When asked whether he had the concussion protocol, Edelman responded by saying that he’s not permitted to discuss injuries.
To make matters worse, Edelman sat out the last two games of the regular season with…wait for it…a concussion. This is the classic, terrible story which has produced so much misery and even death for players after football. Multiple concussions over time produce horrific results. Ominously, the NFL columnist for The Bleacher Report said that Edelman “didn’t seem quite right” after the game.
The first comment on the Think Progress piece claims that “It’s his choice.” But many choices are coerced by the social structures and context in which they are made. What would Edelman’s choice have been if it were a regular season game? A preseason game? Back yard football? He stayed in the game, and went back in without fulfilling the full 8-12 minute test, because it was the Superbowl.
And why was it “the Superbowl”? Us. There is no Superbowl without us. All of us who have watched and built the game up over the decades. The Superbowl is the Superbowl because we watch it.
Perhaps it is time to admit a difficult truth: we shouldn’t.
Wow, Charlie. This is prophetic and profoundly challenging, especially coming from someone who I know to share in this material culture. As I mentioned in my own post, I am heartened by the women’s clubs responses to various issues (including curtailing concussion culture), but does this even matter when the NFL blows through its own protocol at precisely the moment when it could have made a statement? It did answer my Niebuhrian suspicion, though, that its interests trump protecting others. Perhaps more specifically, and framed in the language of our tradition, its interests trump human dignity. And perhaps the ONLY response in this case, especially from those of us who love the game, is to give a clear and unmistakable NO to this “throwaway culture.”
Couldn’t have said it better, Nichole. Like you said, a huge part of me loves football. Which makes this all the more difficult. And…well…sad.