The final exhBition game of the National Football League’s pre-season provided the perfect keynote. Carolina Panthers guard Jamie Wilson, laid out on the field, fallen by injury, was strapped to a gurney and carried to an ambulance. Fans out for blood sat in sad silence while television announcers disclosed their horror, their hope the injury would not be serious, their understanding that moments like this place football in its proper perspective. On the next play, Pittsburgh linebacker Carlos Emmons laid out a Carolina receiver and celebrated with a dance of self idealization.
Football was back.
The strategic pretensions of coaches and analysts aside, football is irreducBly a game of brutality. The best laid offensive plans achieve nothing if tacklers aren’t laid out by blockers. Even the vicarious thrill of watching a ball carrier streak down the field, dancing around defenders, rides on the more primitive vicarious fear of having one’s legs crushed between two tacklers.
However, acknowledgement of football’s inherent violence can be taken too far. Over the last three decades, as football has taken its unique genius for television to favored status among American sports fans, reams of social commentary have attempted to establish that football really draws appeal from our fiercest proclivities.
Indeed, some have gone so far as to argue that football glorifies war. The antecedents for such mistaken sloganeering are obvious. First, professional football grew into the monster it has become today largely during the Vietnam years, concurrent with the presidency of a football zealot, Richard Nixon, who repeatedly used terms like ”game plan“ in reference to his proposals.
Nixon also liked to suggest plays, complete with diagrams, to professional coaches. Not entirely by coincidence, many football terms of art, like ”bomb,“ ”blitz,“ and ”sack“ carry from the military vocabulary. The rational regimentation of football invited comparison with military discipline, just as it goaded a counterculture that denounced war and hierarchy.
Doubtless, football is a war game. The object is to gain territory, advancing toward the end zone, goal, or capital. Scoring a touchdown is like taking the capital, except, in football, a team may need to take the capital several times to win. Regardless, the assertion that football glorifies war is groundless.
We wonder, first, what is means to say anything is glorious. To say something is glorious is to say it is worthy of glory. Of Webster’s many definitions of ”glory,“ the first is most relevant: ”great honor and admiration won by doing something important or valuable; fame, renown.“
Objectively, nothing is glorious; whatever is, just is. Glory is bestowed inter-subjectively. Is football glorious? Of course not. Football is a game, a small portion of the entertainment economy, far removed from the real concerns of people or nations. Achievement in football may be commendable, but never glorious in any truly important or valuable sense.
Is war glorious? It depends on the war, who is fighting it, why it is fought, how it is fought, and who is making the assessment. When a war is fought and won, supported by a crown or public convinced of its rightness, those concerned will be convinced of the war’s glory. One wouldn’t have to walk very far to find an American of a certain angry strain who believes the Gulf War was glorious. World War II , however bloody and deadly, is glorified in America for its closure against cruel opportunists, not to mention the sacrifices of a generation that has since been handsomely compensated.
The Vietnam War, fought on the slippery slope of the domino theory, never stood a chance of being glorious. As soon as the public understood the mission and tactics, the war lost all credBility. When the sovereign mistrusts the war it is fighting, glory is out of the question. As it happened, the Vietnam War coincided with the growth of football as a spectator sport, inviting the mistake that military glory must spring by analogy from some other source.
Because war and football shared many superficial similarities, ranging from vocabulary to supporters, certain loose-reasoning elements of the counterculture determined that football must be glorifying war. Of course, military glory came to Western civilization at least 4,000 years before football. Indeed, the fact that football has borrowed terms and strategic paradigms from war suggests not that football glorifies war, but, conversely, that war glorifies football.
For most of the last 30 years, as has been case through much of American history, the people of this country have been viscerally averse to war. Meanwhile, football has flourished. Early this year, the NFL signed a four-year contract requiring three television networks to pay $17.6 million for broadcast rights. Americans love football, the exciting and relatively harmless game, and hate war, the geopolitical power play of moral and mortal dimensions. So, if football is supposed to glorify war, it is doing a pretty poor job.
Of course, none of this addresses that clean, hard hit on the field that thrills nearly everyone but the recipient. Football is violent. There is no way around it. By the syllogisms of its theater, football resembles war. There’s no way around that, either. But it isn’t war, nor does it glorify war. Not even close.
@P. (u) Wilson: I offer information and interesting news, you call me names. Name calling…
You can do it Pete. Feeding the trolls is pointless.
No pics of the thong wedgie? Damn!
Whatever, Gast. I could post stuff that reflects my attitudes all day and you'd never…
"liberal death cult"? Are they the ones who lied about WMD's and got us involved…