Ed Driscoll

Puritan Rails Against Popular American Pastime

“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.

Gosh.

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.

As NRO’s Kevin Williamson noted over the weekend, the modern left has become “inarguably totalitarian” in recent years. The difference in that ideology’s live-and-live past and its current reactionary mode can be examined by comparing the angry, punitive tone of Gabler’s new article with the best-selling 1989 book through which he first made his mark as a journalist and historian. Titled An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, it was later adopted into a documentary in 1998 for the A&E Network*, with the ponderous title, Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream. As Gabler noted, the American film industry as we know it today was created in the 1920s and ‘30s by Jewish immigrants who had transplanted themselves from the east coast in the 1910s, initially to escape Thomas Edison’s guild socialism, along with anti-Semitism in general. By employing the myths they brought with them from the Old Country, along with plenty of American patriotism and a deep love for their adopted country, they created the American Dream in visual form while becoming, for the standards of the time, staggeringly wealthy along the way:

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These were religious, conservative, often deeply-flawed, in some instances under-educated and/or ruthless men, employing actors with issues all their own and then discarding them without pity when they had outlived their usefulness or became PR risks, all for the sake of creating ephemeral entertainment for lower and middle class Americans to kill a few hours on the weekend. And yet Gabler’s book was a reminder of the movie moguls’ inherent humanity, hardscrabble roots, and the awesome product they would ultimately create.

The men who run today’s NFL are often as deeply flawed as Hollywood’s moguls, and the Sodom and Gomorrah atmosphere of Los Angeles after hours in the 1920s and 1930s can be found in the activities of every NFL team away from the gridiron. (See also: Jerry Jones looking the other way at the Dallas Cowboys’ now-infamous “White House” of the mid-1990s for a representative sampler.)

Ironically, Gabler’s anti-NFL article sounds very much like the material cranked out by the Legion of Decency and other abstemious groups of the time, looking for a magic bullet to make the excesses of Hollywood in its golden era instantly vanish. Or perhaps Seduction of the Innocent, fellow leftist Fredric Wertham’s puritanical screed against the comic book industry of the 1950s. Or the crusade by England’s Mary Whitehouse against the excesses of the BBC of the 1960s and ’70s. Why the dehumanizing rhetoric all of a sudden from a journalist who should know better?

* Yes, that A&E Network, which would attempt to impose a blacklist of its own late last year on its stars when their worldview clashed with the network’s own, speaking of the modern totalitarian American left.