I’m not sure if Jerry Seinfeld is aware of what his seemingly simple comedic riffs can reveal about us as a nation. Take the above interview with David Letterman from the mid-1990s, in which Seinfeld compares following modern professional sports with “rooting for laundry.” It’s a statement that packs a surprising punch, not just because of how free agency has made journeymen of professional athletes. But particularly considering how the culture that built and supported professional sports in the postwar years has been hollowed out, and is now, for all intents and purposes, gone. It’s a show about nothing, to borrow the title of the book on modern American nihilism written by one of Seinfeld’s most astute critics.
But every once in a while, there are flashes of the old heroics that made sports great — and if so, they must quickly be tamped down. Or as Rush Limbaugh noted on Monday, “Not So Long Ago in America, RGIII Would be Portrayed as a Hero, Not a Liar.” The target of Limbaugh’s ire is a column by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports headlined, “Robert Griffin III’s lies, Mike Shanahan’s poor management doom Redskins in playoffs.” Lying is rarely a word associated with a beloved rookie quarterback, riding the crest of his first season in the pros:
Robert Griffin III couldn’t run, at least not in any way resembling his usual sprints through the line and into open turf. Robert Griffin III couldn’t throw, at least not the deep darts that move the chains and keep defenses honest.
Robert Griffin III couldn’t lead the Washington Redskins’ offense, not after his knee buckled in the first quarter of this NFC wild-card game against Seattle. A couple plays later Washington took a two-touchdown lead but the deal was done. It would gain just 41 yards over the next two and a half futile quarters with Griffin as quarterback, all but assuring Seattle’s 24-14 victory.
Robert Griffin III couldn’t do much of anything Sunday except lie, which is what he’s been trained to do in situations like this.
Lie to himself that he can still deliver like no backup could. Lie to his coach that this was nothing big. Lie to the doctors who tried to assess him in the swirl of a playoff sideline.
So Robert Griffin III lied, which is to be excused because this is a sport that rewards toughness in the face of common sense, a culture that celebrates the warrior who is willing to leave everything on the field, a business that believes such lies are part of the road to greatness.
That’s remarkably brutal stuff — essentially a dismissal of the entire professional sport that Wetzel is paid to cover, to which Limbaugh replied on air:
I opened the program with some quotes from a story by a sportswriter, a guy who earns his living covering the National Football League and other sports, Dan Wetzel, who says that the thing to learn, the take-aways from yesterday’s Redskins-Seahawks game is that Robert Griffin III was responsible for the loss because he lied. He lied about his ability to run. He lied about his ability to throw. He lied about his ability to lead. He lied because he couldn’t do much of anything yesterday, and he lied about it, and his coach accepted the lies, and as such, the Redskins lose.
Well, an NFL coach happened to hear me say this, and I got this e-mail from the NFL coach. And this is profound. It’s just one line. “Leave it to liberals to destroy a great American tradition taught in the greatest American team game ever invented: selflessness. One of the reasons a great team wins a Super Bowl is selflessness.” So the NFL coach who saw the game yesterday thought that RGIII was being selfless, putting the team first. He was doing everything he could to help the team win.
Shanahan said the quarterback — this is Dave Wetzel — quarterback who lies to me is better than our backup, I’ll go with the guy lying to me. Anyway, I predicted, how long ago was it? It was this summer or maybe back in the spring, I made a bold prediction that the forces of the left were marshaling against the NFL, focusing on head injuries, the concussions. I said, “I don’t know if it’s gonna happen in my lifetime or not, but if they don’t give up the quest, they’re going to succeed in altering this game in a way that nobody would ever believe.” I don’t see them giving up. In fact, people who earn their living covering the game, are perhaps unwittingly leading the charge to change the game into something that nobody will recognize. I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime or not, but clearly the effort is underway.
But in the meantime, the NFL remains the very definition of a cash cow for athletes, coaches, professional sportswriters such as Wentzel, and in particular the team owners. One reason is the staggering amount of money a committed fan will pay to attend a game. Even after the economy went south in late 2008 and continued its slump until, well, today, and plenty of leftwing journalists were eager to declare Barack Obama the second coming of FDR, overseeing a nation trapped in a perma-Depression as a result of his ill-chosen policies. (See also: Forgotten Man, The.) We’ll explore that topic right after the page break.