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Taming the Beast

Time for a rant about professional football.  I don’t know how many TAC regulars are football fans, but I suspect there are at least a few.  I have been a fan for many years but rarely watch anymore.  At one time, football was a real male bonding experience with big brawny guys smacking each other around and being watched from cold hard stadium seats by other guys swilling beer and eating hot dogs.  I still recall as a high schooler sitting in Yankee Stadium and watching the devastating hit by the Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik on Frank Gifford of the Giants. Bednarik’s motor never stopped.  He played both linebacker and center and was never off the field.  Giants players mostly lived in modest houses in the industrial towns of northern New Jersey in those days and were paid so little that they had to sell used cars during the off season.  Players played because they loved the game and owners were football people through and through like George Halas, the Rooneys, the Maras.

Today professional football has been cleaned up and homogenized.  It is little more than a very profitable business designed to appeal to every demographic and it has become oh-so-boring.  Team owners are careful about their investment and many are completely ignorant of the game, having made their money in software design or building shopping centers, not in running sports franchises.  Overpaid players are commodities that have to be protected and the sport has become so risk adverse and over officiated that the play is constantly stopping because of penalties on ridiculous infractions that are impossible to discern even on replay.  And then there is replay itself – another excuse to slow up the action and squeeze in more commercials.  To bring excitement back into the game throw out many of the rules that limit physical contact and get rid of at least half of the officials, particularly the clown who is hunched over in the defensive team’s backfield.

Discipline to maintain a fantasy public image is nothing short of draconian.  In today’s NFL, when a player, coach, or owner does something that the tight butts at the sport’s control center consider to be damaging to the “business interest” heavy fines are instantly levied.  Players go out to play only to find out on Monday that they have been fined $10,000 for doing something that did not even result in a penalty on the field.  There’s something 1984ish in that you can be punished well after the fact for something that was apparently not punishable when you did it.  This week owner Bud Adams of the Tennessee Titans was fined $250,000 for flipping off the opposing team.  It was twenty five times more than a fine levied the previous week when one player was punched by an opponent. I hope Adams refuses to pay it.  Of course, the NFL is a monopoly so it can do what it wants, so maybe it is time to lobby congress to get rid of sports monopolies and bring in a little competition.

Every game starts with a dose of heavy handed and mawkish jingoism, frequently featuring our “heroes” serving overseas, regarding whom the NFL could care less as they are in no position to buy tickets and team paraphernalia.  Teams are frequently considered successful when they make a lot of money even if they lose. The sport is so commercialized that on kickoffs and punt returns twelve seconds of play are routinely sandwiched between six minutes of commercials.  If you want to watch a game that is not local you have to go through Rupert Murdoch and his monopoly at Directv and pay him $270 for the privilege.  If you want to watch it in High Definition you have to pay him more.    

We’ve become a candy ass country where everyone is afraid of offending anyone else or upsetting the cozy business arrangements that make the insiders rich.  Just as the Olympic Games have been destroyed beyond any hope of redemption due to American style commercialization so too have professional sports become symptoms of a bland and undemanding society that is no longer interested in genuine competition or human achievement on the athletics field.  That is probably why the game experience itself has become so bad with fans getting drunk and obscene because what is going on on the field can be a bit like a board meeting at IBM.  I would like to blame it all on Obama and the Democrats, but I believe I am correct in saying that most team owners are Republicans.

about the author

Phil Giraldi is a former CIA Case Officer and Army Intelligence Officer who spent twenty years overseas in Europe and the Middle East working terrorism cases. He holds a BA with honors from the University of Chicago and an MA and PhD in Modern History from the University of London. In addition to TAC, where he has been a contributing editor for nine years, he writes regularly for Antiwar.com. He is currently Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest and resides with his wife of 32 years in Virginia horse country close to his daughters and grandchildren. He has begun talking far too much to his English bulldog Dudley of late, thinks of himself as a gourmet cook, and will not drink Chardonnay under any circumstances. He does not tweet, and avoids all social media.

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