It’s no secret that we’re totally gay for Will Leitch and that the initial success of this site is owed in no small part to Leitch promoting us on Deadspin. Even though he’s not involved with the day-to-day affairs of the blogosphere anymore, we keep in touch. Just a few weeks back, Leitch dropped in to contribute to the Cardinals preview. That said, Leitch can go stick his dick in a batting donut because this week he has a short polemic published in New York Magazine questioning the moral rightness of continuing to be an NFL fan. If that doesn’t sound grating enough, his baseball dork sensibilities are smeared all over it. You don’t even have to go further than the opening paragraph to see it.
One of the most quoted routines of the late George Carlin was his explication of the differences between football and baseball. “Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting, and unnecessary roughness. Baseball has the sacrifice.” I always think about that routine when each sport is beginning to stretch its legs to prepare for the start of a new season. Baseball’s spring training is all about the smell of freshly cut grass, about renewal, about being eternally young, about hope. Football’s training camp is about fighting for your right to exist, about weeding out the weak, about grueling two-a-days, about a boot camp where you’re expected to run until you puke and then get back up and run some more. It is about destroying yourself in order to live.
Yes, that’s right – spring training is all fresh-cut grass and eternal youth and reminiscing about playing catch in the yard with your dad who just got back from the morally justified war. No one is ever cut, relegated to the minors or had their dreams crushed in spring training because baseball is hope and a wistful longing for an America that never truly existed. Meanwhile, football training camp is the Bataan Death March of sport, where there is so little regard for human life that no one even bothers to clear the corpses that litter the field after grueling two-a-days, which actually don’t exist in the NFL anymore thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement reached last year.
Let’s not get too bogged down in baseball hating. The thrust of Leitch’s piece is that we “know too much” about the reality of head injuries in the NFL to be able to watch the sport without deep-seated compunction eating away at our soul.
But as the evidence mounts and the voices become louder, every NFL observer has to, at one point, ask himself: Is it immoral to be a football fan? Can an intelligent, engaged, socially conscious person put the way he sees the world in every other context aside because he enjoys watching the Giants on Sunday? Those are legitimate questions, because you can’t just pretend anymore. Every time there’s a big hit on the field, I can’t keep my human side—the part that wonders what that’ll mean for the player when he’s 45—quiet anymore. Forget your own kid playing football. The question is whether anyone’s kid should.
This has been a trendy argument to make of late and, sure, it’s not one without validity. We don’t want to know that people are ruining their lives for our entertainment. Even it means altering that sport we love, it’s good that the NFL has had to be forced, kicking and screaming, to make changes to the game to promote the long-term health of its players. More work is needed but there’s been progress.
As I mentioned before, I worked as a furniture mover for a year when I was between writing jobs. I worked with a guy who was knocked off the back of the moving truck and hit his back on the lift gate on the way down. He’s had multiple surgeries and will have more, but the sad fact is his back is permanently damaged. That may be on the extreme side, but injuries are not atypical. Employees are uninsured. If that isn’t standard practice in the moving industry, it’s very, very common. Knowing what you know now, should you question whether owning an armoire is a morally defensible thing? Of course not, because you need shithead furniture and you need it moved, and these lunkheads who probably have DUIs need money.
Well, NFL players are mostly lunkheads with DUIs who have a career that can (but obviously not always) afford them lots of money, prestige and a host of other wonderful things, not excluded their own wish fulfillment of just being an NFL player. There are lots of jobs that keep the world running that are self-destructive without a fraction of those benefits or sense of satisfaction. While football on its face isn’t a “necessary” thing, you could make an argument from an economic standpoint that it actually is. Which is probably why Congress was calling on the NFL and the NFLPA to avoid a locked out season last year.
The positive of “knowing too much” about the cost of football is that players, even with a safer game, know what risks they undertake when they decide they want to be a football player. Except for Eli Manning, who clearly hates it and would rather be doing anything else, it’s not a career foisted on people. It’s a choice. If that means fewer people in the future approve of their kids playing, well, fine. That means the ones who do go into it do so knowing the risks fully. That has not always been the case, but we’re almost there. I see nothing morally wrong with that.