By Tom Cushing
No Longer Ready for Some FootballUploaded: Nov 11, 2013
The Miami Dolphins are playing on Monday Night Football this evening ? I won't be watching.
Football has lost me, and not just because of the current bullying imbroglio involving two gigantic linemen ? I actually think that's an interesting phenomenon that may mark a turning point for the league as a place of employment. The game has lost me because I no longer believe it's worth several weekend hours to watch it.
It wasn't always that way. Growing up back east, the Browns of Jim Brown and Paul Warfield were my idols, at least until the local Buffalo Bills with star receiver Elbert Golden Wheels Dubenion won my heart. My Dad's stock went through the roof when he scored us tickets to see Jackie Kemp and our boys dispatch the Hated Patriots in a frigid play-off (except they didn't). I broke a leg in three places playing the game in high school, and I'd have played the next season if I had healed adequately.
Later, I was in the student section when undermanned Michigan beat the Team of the Century from some school down south, forty-four years ago. I loved the grace of Lance Alworth and the true grit of Walter Payton. I even recall an epic playoff tilt between those Dolphins and the Chargers, in their gorgeous powder blue jerseys, sometime back in the 1980s. Yeah, I like unis ? as do Many other fans of all stripes.
My fanship started to wane in the 1990s. The game seems increasingly ponderous ? five or ten seconds of frantic action, followed each time by minutes of lull (and that doesn't even count the TV time-outs). It's just a war over real estate -- there's no flow, a la basketball, hockey or even soccer, and little in the way of intellectual stimulation between plays. Your mileage may vary, but in baseball, with every pitch I can ruminate on the next one (slider/curve/ change-up/heat , down/up, in/out), placement of the defense, steal/hit-run/stay, who's up in the bullpen, and are the Hated Angels losing? I've heard baseball called an onion ? enjoyable at any layer and you'll never reach the center. Football is a potato.
I also don't trust the game any more. When I was in college, I thought that All-American lineman Dan Dierdorf was the biggest man I'd ever seen. He filled a doorway and went on to be a perennial all-pro tackle. He weighed about 275 ? barely big enough for a back-up tight end in today's game of routine 350-pounders.
I have no independent evidence (as a former fan, I don't need any), but neither the species nor the training tables have evolved to account for the difference ? chemistry, however, has. I suspect that foreign substances account for both the size and nasty, taunting edge on today's players. In the NFL, a catch over the middle may earn you a racist spit in the face; in baseball, a player hits a single and chats-up the first baseman ? certainly nothing more inflammatory than the needling classic "how's your wife and my kids?"
Finally, I've concluded that it's not worth patronizing a game that costs even its best competitors their futures. Granted, this is not dog fighting, where the combatants have no chance to consent or decline to participate (what brought that comparison to mind?). But not-a-game goes by without a cart-off injury, and the debilitations of brain injuries born of chronic whackings are tragic to behold, years later. Have you seen recent footage of Earl Campbell? The Tyler Rose can barely rise from his wheelchair; his speech is often unintelligible. There is a gladiatorial aspect to these contests that obscures the competition: "Am I not entertained?" No, I'm not.
So, the current bluster-ruckus over "locker room culture" may be confirming, but it does not lie at the heart of my disinterest. For the record, workplace discrimination in the form of harassment has been illegal since 1964. While the sex-based variant has gotten most of the ink, if harassment is based on some protected characteristic (race, color, sex, religion, national origin), is unwelcome, and sufficiently "severe and pervasive" to alter its object's terms and conditions of employment, then it's illegal. If there's evidence that management ordered or even condoned those actions, then the employer is liable for maintaining or allowing a hostile work environment. Expensively so.
Boys-are-boys, and rough traditional workplace 'culture' are not defenses ? the law stands for the proposition that bullying behaviors that target certain status factors, and that make a person's job differentially, importantly more difficult to do, need not be tolerated. It's true in shipyards, steel mills, truck terminals and law firms ? all of which have had to conform their 'cultures' to the law. That's not 'wussification,' as has been charged by at least one troglodyte on sports talk radio ? think of it as leveling the playing field.
The NFL is no different. The investigation proceeds, but for the reasons above, I am mostly indifferent to the outcome. Along with the Eagles (LA variety), I'm already gone. How about you?