Even if you've never heard of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, you probably suspect it's not something you want for your 15-year-old son. Nevertheless, this weekend saw three impassioned defenses of American football, brain injuries like CTE be damned.
The more succinct, less nuanced of the two pro-football arguments came from the New York Post: "Football, watched by two-thirds of Americans and generating annual revenues approaching $10 billion for the National Football League, has strangely been relegated to sports’ endangered-species list." In other words, people like football and it generates a lot of money for venerable Americans like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. So don't meddle with a good thing. And while we're at it, what's wrong with smoking a pack of Marlboros a day?
There is, of course, nothing "strange" about the increasing aversion to football, even as it's played on countless suburban fields across the nation. The number of former NFL who have committed suicide is staggering, suggesting that they likely suffered from brain injuries sustained during their ten-yard fights.
The author of that op-ed, Daniel Flynn, also published a piece in Forbes over the weekend, which was given the extremely subtle title "Why Everything You Hear About the 'Deadly' Game of Football Is False." Everything, you see. Those neurologists are a lying bunch.
In a far more eloquent defense of football, Max Boot posited in The Wall Street Journal, "football can provide an invaluable lesson in team effort, hard work and discipline, along with a sense of camaraderie that can last a lifetime." But that lifetime could be severely truncated, given the increasing amount of research that suggests youth football is, in fact, a dangerous pursuit (to be fair, Boot does at least acknowledge as much). It should be noted, in addition, that Boot is a conservative war historian who places rather too high an emphasis on the image of the vigorous American male, one who can transition swiftly from the gridiron to the battlefield.
This newest eruption in the football culture wars — coming as it does right as the NFL season approaches — reflects a growing conviction that cultural elites hate football because it is violent, masculine and physical, a sport that celebrates action over thought, beloved far more in Cleveland than Manhattan. That Malcolm Gladwell disparages football in the rarefied pages of The New Yorker only reinforces the point.
And it's not as if the cultural conservatives' lament for football is entirely misguided; rather, it is simply misplaced, a nostalgia for the America of Rudy and Friday Night Lights, as opposed to that of Aaron Hernandez and Junior Seau. Boot calls football America's "civic religion." Maybe so. But the number of apostates is quickly, rightly growing.