My name is Hugh and I am a football
junkie fan. I am fully aware that there is an overwhelming stench of corruption at the collegiate level and an alarming number of the players at both the pro and college levels are borderline felons — some of them over the borderline. I also know many of them almost certainly take illegal drugs to enhance their performance. And I am aware, thanks to recent allegations, that the “culture” in the locker room in at least one professional football team resembles a jungle. Still, I love to watch the game and see athletes perform at the highest levels. Mea culpa.
But let’s ponder the recent allegations about one of the borderline criminals who appears to be guilty of intimidation, harassment and bullying — words that are far too mild to describe the sorts of things that Richie Incognito has tweeted to the young Jonathan Martin who has left the Miami Dolphins football team under duress and now attempts to recover his mental balance. One of the texts, according to ESPN, is as follows:
“Hey, wassup, you half n—– piece of s—. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s— in your f—ing mouth. [I’m going to] slap your f—ing mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F— you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”
Reporters who have followed this story are astonished to discover that the players in the locker room (where, as stated above the culture resembles a jungle) support Richie Incognito, who has been dismissed from the team pending an investigation by officials of the NFL. Those same players — a majority we are told — fault Martin for being less than a man by quitting the team and blowing the whistle on his teammate. I kid you not. On the face of it we have a straightforward case of bullying and intimidation in the extreme, possibly including physical attacks against Miller — to the point where the victim suffered mental anguish. But apologists for Incognito explain that this is the way it is in pro football: older, more experienced players have to “toughen up” the younger players and make them angry enough to go out each Sunday and lay themselves on the line for the team. It’s been said that some coaches have urged the experienced players to work on some of the younger players to make them “mean dogs” rather than”house dogs,” despite the fact that psychological evidence strongly suggests that behavior such as Incognito’s is counter-productive.
In a word, we are faced with one of two uncomfortable truths: either Richie Incognito is a criminal and racist bully who deserve the severest penalties possible under the law, or this is the norm and the football players who play for the NFL are indeed more nearly animals than humans, which says something about those of us who glory in the spectacle of men warring against one another until one or both are carried off on a stretcher — after which we accord them a moment’s silence. But the game must go on, or, at any rate it assuredly will.
So, given these alternatives, why on earth would any self-respecting person admit that he or she is delighted to watch this spectacle? I suppose the answer is partly given above: the athletes who perform do so at the highest levels and it is exciting to watch. But I think it goes beyond that. I think those of us who watch football with great interest find it a release of pent-up emotions and the frustrations that accompany living in a society where so much seems to be wrong and change is out of reach– together with a ready substitute to fill the vacuum created by the absence of aesthetic or religious experience. It is certainly the case that the football stadiums are filled to the brim each week while the churches, art galleries, and concert halls are nearly empty. Further, there isn’t much the individual can do to effect change with the corporations and their millions of dollars in control of the political machine. And given the amount of money the entertainment industry can make from presenting the spectacle every week — in college or professional form 24/7 from August until mid-January — it is likely to become even more a part of the culture in years to come as we make excuses for the players’ behavior on and off the field on the grounds that this is simply the way it is.
I admit that my love of the game weakens as my awareness of the price we all pay increases. Soon, perhaps, I will wean myself completely from this brutal game where the cost to the players and the spectators as well may already have passed acceptable levels. In the meantime I ask you to excuse me while I check the schedule.