Warning: contains Breaking Bad spoilers
When I was in the sixth grade, I attempted to sign up for football and started crying instead. One of the coaches saw me and told me football wasn’t about judgement or being strong.
It was about “heart” and “believing in yourself.” He was a liar, but I’m glad I listened. I signed up, played defensive end and wide receiver, recovered a fumble, broke a bone and was nicknamed “Legend.”
I quit two years later, mostly because I discovered running. I have really long legs and it’s just easier in life to run away from things.
I was joking about Legend. He existed, somewhere — most likely in Santa Barbara for unprotected sexual hot-tub prowess — but not me, not then, not football. But I’ll always be grateful for that coach who helped out a crying kid and didn’t tab him $15,000 for the Vegas bro-trip.
It’s a pretty powerful thing, football. Check out a map of the United States according to the highest paid public employees. 41 states claim a sports coach — a whopping 30 of those are football coaches. We care a lot about it. More than libraries, obviously.
There is that other thing, though, that comes with great power — the thing football doesn’t seem to know much about. Instead of embracing its great responsibility, football has collapsed inward and upon itself.
The result is an overwhelmingly powerful suck-hole of dark, stupid matter.
By now, we’re sick of hearing about Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. We’ve had every opinion imaginable shoved down our throats, ranging from “I don’t know why this is happening” to “All hell is going to break lose.”
Here’s the thing though — First off, who cares. It’s the NFL. Are you that surprised?
Second, hasn’t hell already broken loose?
Is it taking us this long to realize that football broke bad years ago? This isn’t Walter White deciding to cook meth; it’s him killing Mike. It’s Adrian Peterson dying beside a river with Roger Goodell mumbling about how all those hits just didn’t seem so bad at the time.
“Shut the fuck up Roger,” says Adrian. “Let me die in peace.”
As for Martin and Incognito, I don’t know what really happened. The NFL is a black hole. You can speculate all you want about what goes on inside, but once you’re in, there’s no way for you to report back on anything. Nothing escapes. Not light, not gravity, certainly not truth.
This is about the establishment. It’s about football covering its ass so it doesn’t have to answer for anything. It’s about rubbing a golf club against a woman’s vagina and having your team “investigate” and “take appropriate action.” No one ever has to know how much the Dolphins or Incognito paid that woman because when you toss in a confidentiality agreement, we can’t even bother asking.
And when things go wrong, the media makes a big fuss and the NFL is content to punish and partake in the demonizing of whoever because it aids in the most fantastical deception that somehow goes on right before our very eyes.
But then again, we are part of that black hole. We watch every Sunday, rain or shine, grievance or no.
There’s that book, League of Denial, by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru. They’re best known for writing Game of Shadows, which was about kings, incest, dwarfs and dragons. Okay, it was actually about steroids and baseball. Dudes were mashing home runs all the time and that was good fun.
League of Denial is about football-related brain injuries and people dying. It’s also about the NFL discrediting scientists and claiming the concussion issue in football, “was one of those pack journalism issues, frankly.”
If you hired me to babysit your children and you found out I hit them over the head with frying pans repetitively for the first five years of their life, how psyched would you be?
But what if I told you there’s no evidence repetitively hitting a child in the head with a frying pan is dangerous? Would you let me back into your home?
Again, football is incredibly dear to us. We watch it on Thursday and Saturday and Sunday and Monday and Thanksgiving and we eat and drink a ton of shitty GMO food and beer doing it. That’s okay though. Priorities are priorities. So some of this is on us.
We don’t line up to watch people toss puppies into a river and so there’s not a successful puppy-tossing league because there’s no audience for puppy-tossing. But I think that’s beside the point.
People shouldn’t puppy-toss because it might be wrong — not because there isn’t a target audience. The NFL covered up issues of life and death and we still watch like nothing happened.
Forget the Redskins. Football stole something else from Native Americans — tribal sovereignty. Only it isn’t really a tribe anymore; it’s more like a war party.
We are all enablers here. We drag the little people to the gallows — the Hester Prynnes, the Sean Paytons and the Richie Incognitos. We punish them because football will never be threatened if we don’t shine our moral lights on its rotten core.
But Incognito and Payton are just products of the ultimate environment. Ironically, it was Incognito himself who seemed to get that right. There is always a higher power and it needs to answer for something too.
Football is not as important as human life. It’s a sport, not a sovereign nation through which one can seek asylum.
I’m not proposing a death penalty. I’m just suggesting football try and set an example of sorts, at the very least.
The sport I played in sixth grade seemed to be about knocking people down and helping them back up. Not kicking their skull in.
So go ahead football. Your move.
It’s not like you won’t do whatever you want anyway.