1.07.2012

The Spectacle of Football



Like many Americans, I am chomping at the bit for the NFL postseason. (Unlike most Americans, I will be whizzing through the games at 30 minutes per the next morning while riding my exercise bicycle, but that's neither here nor there.) At a point in my life in which I have very little discretionary time, watching pro football is a tiny sliver of guilty pleasure that I thoroughly enjoy. (I lament only that we don't have cable so that I'm stuck with whatever the network stations are airing as well as that the season is only five months long.)

Ah, but I am starting to feel a little guilty for watching. No, not because I'm not allowed this little indulgence. But because it all feels very much like "Christians vs. lions in the Roman Colosseum." Because I am in a hurry, my thumb is quick to hit fast-forward (yes, I tape games on VHS tapes using my trusty ol' VCR). Dead time between plays, commercials, even extra points, field goals, kickoffs, and punts get the fast-forward treatment. I've also trained my finger to hit fast-forward when a player is shown hobbling or down, because I know that oftentimes that too means a longer than usual delay between plays, followed by a commercial break.

Whizzing forward until play resumes means I don't have much time to dwell on how sad this is. Grown men in the prime of their lives, unusually physically gifted, undergoing the equivalent of a head-on car crash with little more than plastic padding to protect themselves. Over a handful of times each game, multiplied by 16 games per week and 16 weeks per season, serious injuries are sustained, on the order of concussions, broken or fractured bones, and torn muscles and ligaments. Watching at home, we are fed a steady diet of the following images: replays of just how the gruesome injury occurred, followed by a close-up of the player grimacing in pain and/or being helped up by his team's trainer. Even worse, if the player is slow to get up, the networks cut to a commercial break, where we can be bombarded with advertisements for cars, fast food, beer, and potato chips. What a country!

It's a free country, and football players are compensated handsomely for their high-risk professions. My indictment isn't necessarily of the players, the networks, or the advertisers. I'm just pointing out that it is kind of sad what this spectacle called watching football has become. I'm not so sure the last days of the Roman Empire were much different, even though they happened so long ago. They may not have had a fast-forward button like I do, but they likely showed the same lack of concern for the wounded that I do when I gloss over a serious injury in order to hasten the arrival of the next play.

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