Into The Looking Glass…Darkly
Once again, it seems as though we’re learning to hate our own creation. This time, our collective outrage is focused on the world of professional sports. We love them on the playing field, but we cringe at the headlines reporting their human frailties.
The National Football League has grown from a handful of teams owned by a small group of wealthy industrialists and oilmen into the most valuable sports franchise and brand in U.S. history. This is a multi-billion dollar operation, with revenues far exceeding the gross domestic product of most of the small nations of the world.
Once a hobby designed to make some money for guys who loved high school and college football, now this sport is ingrained in our national conscience, it’s a big part of who we are.
How did this happen?
Hold up a mirror.
We don’t just follow our favorite NFL teams, we obsessively worship them. Millions of Americans plot and plan their weekend around ensuring proximity to a large screen television set on Sunday. Back in the day we were satisfied with two televised contests on a Sunday, with another on Monday night. Now, we demand technology that floods our homes and restaurants with non-stop football action.
We subscribe to satellite systems in order to choose between dozens of games, and we now have Thursday nights and occasional Saturday games to look forward to. We even purchase handheld devices and expensive subscription plans so that we can surreptitiously monitor the games while pretending to live normal lives.
Don’t believe me? Just watch any Verizon or Comcast commercial from September through January.
As if our hyper-focus on the broadcast images weren't sufficient, the live game ticket prices for most teams, if you can actually purchase them on game day, exceed $150 per seat. Add the scalper’s bounty, and you’re paying upwards of $300 per ticket to sit surrounded by 40,000 other similarly obsessed fans. Don’t even ask about beer and food prices or the long lines to stand at an open trough to do your business.
After you’ve decided whether you’re going to watch it live or through the TV, your next challenge is to settle on the game wardrobe. The magic of the NFL is merchandising, hundreds of millions spent on jerseys, hats, and all manner of trinkets bearing the logo of our favorite team.
It’s impossible to escape the obvious irony: crowds of out-of-shape, beer-swilling, middle-aged men adorned in the jersey of their favorite player, ready to be called into action on the field if for some reason the coach would lose his mind and demand a new crop of players who couldn't run to the bathroom, much less down field.
The subject of our mass adoration? Fifty-three guys, most of whom are amazing specimens of humanity, finely-tuned blocks of muscle and sinew trained to smash at top speed into another similar block of muscle. They eat and sleep the game, employing the latest performance-enhancing exercise methodologies and equipment to hone their bodies and maintain peak condition. They are coached by seeming geniuses, men who have studied all facets of the game to exploit any potential weaknesses in their opponents.
Sometimes, as hard as it might be to believe, these football heroes depart from expectation and act like mere mortals. They drink too much and attempt to operate a motor vehicle. They purchase and use illegal drugs. They get irritated with the conduct of obnoxious strangers and punch them in the nose. Sometimes, they resort to acts of violence within their own families.
One of our “local” heroes has recently discovered the limits of our normally flexible sense of right and wrong for NFL players.
Ray Rice, an amazingly talented running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was partying at the now-closed Revel Casino in Atlantic City earlier this year. Only in the sense that if you call partying smashing your fiancé in the face and knocking her out cold, that is.
Ray must really have been mad, though. It seems that in his anger, he forgot that almost every inch of a casino is under video surveillance. We initially got to see Ray drag his now-wife out of the elevator in what appeared to be a state of extreme intoxication, and unceremoniously dump her on the floor just beyond the closing doors. The Rices were investigated by Atlantic City police, and both were charged with simple assault for an apparent lovers spat.
After a short investigation, the prosecutor dropped charges against the fiancé and raised the charge against Mr. Rice. He pled guilty and accepted a plea agreement including a court-ordered anger management program.
Had it not been for a camera located in the ceiling of the elevator cab that might have been the whole story. Rice and his fiancé were wed, and she refused to press charges. Once the elevator footage surfaced, and we got to see the muscle-bound football warrior square up with his flailing girlfriend and connect his fist with her jaw, our collective sense of outrage demanded more of the NFL.
Didn’t we already know that he had hit her inside the closed elevator? He admitted as much, both to the cops and the team. Did we think she threw her head into his raised fist of her own accord?
Didn’t we understand that Rice, and almost every other NFL player, is a mass of muscle scientifically trained to blast whatever obstacle stands before them with incomprehensible speed and violence?
These guys are the modern day gladiators. They are trained by the most capable stewards using the most advanced methods and practices. They are celebrated by a wide portion of our cultured society. We wear their colors, and we flock to live or televised exhibitions of their frightening power weekly from September to February.
Want to know who is really to blame when these monsters employ their highly-developed tools on the undeserving and unsuspecting? Spare us the false outrage and go get that mirror.