“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
– H.L. Mencken.
At Reuters, film critic and journalist Neal Gabler is unhappy with entertainment of a different sort, dubbing the NFL the “Last sports bastion of white, male conservatives”:
But football’s appeal is more than demographics. The numbers reflect the values of white conservative males. No professional sport looks more overtly macho than the NFL, and none appears to take greater delight in violence — not even the National Hockey League, which has gone to great lengths to curb fisticuffs. The Michael Sam draft story revealed that none may be more homophobic. Where the National Basketball Association enthusiastically embraced Jason Collins when he announced he was gay, former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has claimed that that he was released for advocating gay marriage and that his position coach made homophobic slurs. Then are the numerous player tweets against gays, as well as Miami Dolphin lineman and team captain Richie Incognito’s gay taunts against former teammate Jonathan Martin.
But the league’s appeal to entrenched conservative values goes deeper still — to the heart of the relationship between labor and capital. No other professional league seems to exhibit the indifference, even contempt, to its own players that the NFL does to its athletes — which is why the former players have filed their suit. The record of concussions and the use of painkillers demonstrate that to the NFL — and many of its fans — players are essentially expendable, interchangeable, to be used up and then discarded. The fact that football players have never established a powerful union, as baseball and basketball players have, only shows how much those players have drunk the league’s Kool Aid. The career of the average NFL player lasts scarcely three years, yet it is the only professional league that doesn’t have guaranteed contracts.
Still, the game’s soaring popularity may actually signal the potential waning of those values rather than their power. Just as baseball embedded itself into the national psyche because it captured a sense of the country and then hung on because it represented a pastoral oasis in a frightening new industrializing world, football embedded itself into the national psyche because it captured Ronald Reagan’s America, and it may be thriving among its core fans because it is a last redoubt of white male values now being threatened by changing national demographics and a more tolerant mindset.
It is hard to call a league as popular as the NFL an anachronism. But it just may be a place where rich old angry white men can enjoy their world on Sunday — even if that world may be crumbling around them.
There’s really only one thing to do — and it must be done now: “I agree, shut the whole thing down,” Glenn Reynolds jokingly quips, adding that the NBA should be shut down as well, to comply with MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry’s recent take that a professional sports league that routinely hands out seven and eight figure contracts to African Americans is a modern form of slavery.