The Stupor Bowl
[Stu-por (noun): a condition of greatly dulled or completely suspended sense or sensibility and a lack of critical mental function, marked by diminished responsiveness to stimulation and impaired consciousness.]
Every year around this time I feel like I need to do some Primal Scream Therapy. During most of the (what is it — 16 weeks?) of football season I’m able to successfully avoid contact with anything related to “the game.” I don’t watch broadcast TV and I only listen to NPR, so when I hear that Scott Simon or whoever is about to launch into a rundown of this week’s match-ups or to report yesterday’s scores I quickly snap the damn radio off.
But Super Bowl Sunday is ubiquitous; it’s in the supermarket aisles, in the spam emails I suddenly start receiving from local pizza joints, even in the conversations of my otherwise highly intelligent friends and colleagues. This Sunday is a menace I cannot escape.
It’s the violence that’s abhorrent to me, sure; the modern day gladiatorial vibe of the whole spectacle. I know there’s skill involved, but it’s the brute clashing of bodies against one another that provides the thrill to most viewers. Admit it, if you love football, you love the “blocking”, the “tackling”, the “pass rush” — those words do little to hide the physical reality of large male bodies slamming into each other for your entertainment.
Even more disturbing, however, is the commodification of human beings in this outsized, socially sanctioned way. Young, male, mostly Black bodies are bought and sold with impunity in the NFL. Professional athletics (with football being the worst offender) destroys the lives of young men. American culture glorifies every aspect of these so-called games. From toddlerhood on, boys are fed this disturbing narrative that values physical strength and competitiveness above all other human attributes. If you can prove your worth as an athlete, you will be rewarded with all the riches our materialistic culture can offer. Fame, money, sex, power — all of these temptations are laid at the feet of our young men.
And, of course, it’s all a damn lie. The NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB are businesses. They exist to make money for their owners and shareholders. The products they sell are the bodies and minds of young men. The owners are willing to pay large wads of money to their employees because the pool of qualified talent is so small. But those salaries are a mere pittance compared to what the team owners and leagues rake in. These are disconcerting realities that so many of us would prefer to ignore.
In essence, professional sport is legalized slavery. Just because massa treats his slaves “well” doesn’t change the fact that human beings are being treated as chattel. And football, because of its blatant brutality, is the worst offender.
Professional football has been around for over a century, right? Why is it, then, that owners, sports fans and journalists colluded for decades in denying the existence of traumatic brain injuries and other debilitating, life-threatening ailments in players? Could it be that we really don’t give a good goddamn about what happens to these people after they’re no longer “useful” on the field? How about the hornet’s nest of controversy stirred up by Colin Kaepernick and a few other courageous players regarding racial injustice? We can’t have the “help” expressing an opinion, can we? That young man’s career was doomed the moment he took a knee during the national anthem for the first time. The owners can’t tolerate any uppity you-know-whos alienating their fan base, now can they?
Finally, in my mind, football embodies toxic masculinity at its worst. It couldn’t be more obvious. We may say we want to make the world safer for all, especially for women, but what we worship with our dollars and our eyeballs belies that claim. We love the trench warfare between offensive and defensive lineman, the trash talk and the post-touchdown gyrations in the end zone. It doesn’t seem to bother most fans that so many of their gridiron heroes are perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment. It’s to be expected. Boys will be boys. The blind loyalty to team and coach, the enforced stoicism in the face of excruciating pain, the fetishizing of violence, the insularity, the (until very recently) universally-accepted homophobia. Are these the kinds of traits we want future generations of our young men to perpetuate?
The best thing I can say about Super Bowl Sunday is that it signals the end of the football season. Good fucking riddance.