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.
Fortunately, unlike the 1930s, when America, particularly its rural heartland, was a much poorer nation, in the 21st century, the nation’s middle class was doing rather well before our permanent Recovery! Summer! and the lack thereof. And many continue to do so, which has cushioned and/or delayed some of the worst symptoms of Obamanomics.
How well? In a post this past weekend at the Dallas Morning News on the Dallas Cowboys’ continuing woes by sportswriter Rick Gosselin, I was struck by how much some of the more diehard football fans are willing to spend to support their favorite team each year, just to get a taste of the glory days, or remind himself how he felt about his team when he was a kid:
A friend of mine owns a popular sports bar in Albany, N.Y.
It’s about a mile from the local college campus, where the New York Giants have trained.
Mike Graney bleeds blue. But it’s not Giants blue — it’s Cowboys blue.
His love for America’s Team extends beyond dedicating a television screen to the Cowboys at his sports bar, Graney’s, on Sunday afternoons in the fall.
Graney is a season-ticket holder of the Cowboys. He purchased his tickets when the Cowboys played at Texas Stadium, then moved with the team to the new stadium in Arlington.
Graney paid $32,000 for a pair of personal seat licenses at the new stadium. That gave him the right to buy two season tickets at $340 apiece per game. At 10 games, that’s a $6,800 investment each year above and beyond his PSL money.
Graney spends about $400 to fly to Dallas for each game, another $300-plus to stay at a local hotel, another $100 for a rental car and, of course, the $75 to park it at the stadium. Throw in about $50 for concessions each game and, well, being a Cowboys zealot can be an expensive proposition.
“I will continue to support the team,” Graney told me in an email. “I do hope Jerry realizes that his ‘America’s Team’ has been built by loyal fans like me who spend a lot of good money so he could build his stadium.”*
That sort of recreational fiscal enthusiasm (I’m trying very hard to avoid using the word “excess”) reminded me of a classic review from a 2008 edition of Ain’t It Cool News of the first Sex and the City movie, which had a running time of nearly two and a half hours:
But I just couldn’t get over how much this shared in common with BRATZ: the Movie. Montage after montage after montage with each and every problem finding a solution by the fabulously dressed four getting together, squee-ing in a pitch that will deafen dogs and neuter most of the males in the audience, and realizing that friendship will get you through any bout of rampant self-absorption. Oh, so this is what happens when you leave Bratz dolls in the sun too long. I’m not gonna get on the consumerism trip. Not here. Not with the crowd that will drop a grand on a mint condition Revenge of the Jedi poster and consider it an investment in the future. A COOL investment in the future. Come on, I’ve been to a sci-fi convention. And once you’ve stood in the dealer room and pondered dropping $45 on the Battlestar Galactica Boardgame you had when you were five years old, you can’t really fault a woman for getting excited about a $600 pair of purple fuzzy pumps that look like they should come with their own stripper pole. I mean, who the f*ck am I to judge? But Christ in a bucket people, did we need so many montages of them doing it? For two and a…you get the picture.
Or as Tom Wolfe wrote on the eve of the second millennium, in the introduction to his anthology, Hooking Up:
By the year 2000, the term “working class” had fallen into disuse in the United States, and “proletariat” was so obsolete it was known only to a few bitter old Marxist academics with wire hair sprouting out of their ears. The average electrician, air-conditioning mechanic, or burglar-alarm repairman lived a life that would have made the Sun King blink. He spent his vacations in Puerto Vallarta, Barbados, or St. Kitts. Before dinner he would be out on the terrace of some resort hotel with his third wife, wearing his Ricky Martin cane-cutter shirt open down to the sternum, the better to allow his gold chains to twinkle in his chest hairs. The two of them would have just ordered a round of Quibel sparkling water, from the state of West Virginia, because by 2000 the once-favored European sparkling waters Perrier and San Pellegrino seemed so tacky.
European labels no longer held even the slightest snob appeal except among people known as “intellectuals,” whom we will visit in a moment. Our typical mechanic or tradesman took it for granted that things European were second-rate. Aside from three German luxury automobiles—the Mercedes-Benz, the BMW, and the Audi—he regarded European-manufactured goods as mediocre to shoddy. On his trips abroad, our electrician, like any American businessman, would go to superhuman lengths to avoid being treated in European hospitals, which struck him as little better than those in the Third World. He considered European hygiene so primitive that to receive an injection in a European clinic voluntarily was sheer madness.
Indirectly, subconsciously, his views perhaps had to do with the fact that his own country, the United States, was now the mightiest power on earth, as omnipotent as Macedon under Alexander the Great, Rome under Julius Caesar, Mongolia under Genghis Khan, Turkey under Mohammed II, or Britain under Queen Victoria. His country was so powerful, it had begun to invade or rain missiles upon small nations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean for no other reason than that their leaders were lording it over their subjects at home.
Our air-conditioning mechanic had probably never heard of Saint-Simon’s, but he was fulfilling Saint-Simon’s and the other nineteenth-century utopian socialists’ dreams of a day when the ordinary workingman would have the political and personal freedom, the free time and the wherewithal to express himself in any way he saw fit and to unleash his full potential. Not only that, any ethnic or racial group—any, even recent refugees from a Latin country—could take over the government of any American city, if they had the votes and a modicum of organization. Americans could boast of a freedom as well as a power unparalleled in the history of the world.
Fortunately though, “Change” has now come to America, rendering all of that unnecessary exuberance, mobility and wealth anathema:
Well, at least for you.
But despite the president’s hectoring, today, committed sports fans are spending thousands — sometimes, as in the example quoted above from the Dallas Morning News, tens of thousands of dollars to root for their team — which essentially means rooting for uniforms that in many cases, harken back to a bygone era. The Cowboys’ and Redskins’ uniforms each date back to the 1970s, when men such as Tom Landry and George Allen were their coaches, and led teams full of men of character, such as Allen’s grizzled “Over the Hill Gang,” and the overt religious faith of Landry and his QB, Roger Staubach. That era is gone forever, as anyone who has read Jeff Pearlman’s best-selling Boys Will Be Boys, on the staggering pharmaceutical, alcoholic and sexual excesses of the Cowboys in the Jerry Jones era knows.
And whatever vestigial elements of the culture of the past that remain will be corroded and torn down eventually. Just give it time.
* Incidentally, attending a game at Cowboys Stadium is a particularly strange experience; I was there shortly before Christmas to watch the Cowboys ultimately lose to the Saints in a seesaw overtime battle. In the seats near the rafters, given the enormous size of the Jumbotron that runs the length of the field, I found myself transfixed by the video. Only to catch myself, and feel somewhat guilty, given that I had paid to watch the game — which was happening below on the field. By the end, I was feeling less like I was in Jerry Jones’ football stadium, and instead in his den, watching the HDTV of the world’s largest home theater. It’s a sort of Catch-22 for Jones: if he didn’t have Texas-sized video, paying fans would castigate him; but I don’t think anyone considered how a video display this huge distorts the atmosphere of watching the game in person, and adds to the postmodern surrealism of it all.
Related: In addition to Yahoo describing RGIII as a “liar,” ESPN continues to attack him as well. Or as Allahpundit notes, “ESPN analyst who called RGIII a ‘cornball brother’: He’s pushing away from his people.” Allah adds, “This is his version of a climbdown, believe it or not.”