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There is nothing more boring than the NFL. Not even golf.

But, I confess: these last few weeks have gotten rather entertaining. To witness conscience and folly collide, in real time — pop the popcorn, bring out the beers (or in my case, smoked baby clams and whiskey). And to witness the fall in honor of an inexplicable national pastime? Instructive.

Full disclosure: I may never have watched a professional football game all the way through. I cannot remember, exactly. I have seen a few minutes here or there. I happened to be watching at the famous moment when the runner with the ball got his leg horribly broken, snapped like kindling. That was unpleasant, and I hoped never to see anything like it again.

That moment, by the way, is imprinted in memory as having taken place at about the same time as the Challenger disaster. But I so rarely think about football I could be off by a decade and never know it.

I played football for three seasons in my early teens, for no better reason than that it was expected of me. I was not interested enough to learn the rules. Or have any informed thoughts on the subject — even after being made third-string quarterback.

But it did have an important personal lesson for me: disappointing people is something you can get used to. Indeed, people who expect a lot of you do not necessarily have your interests at heart. They want you to do well for their benefit, according to their terms, even if you secretly despise their values.

As I did.

Yes, football was a metaphor for my position in society. I came to exult in avoiding what others wanted . . . in cases where I had no interest in their goofy beliefs, whims, hankerings, agendas.

One of the next culturally expected things I gave up, after the sports cult, was patriotism, as in respect for the flag. I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance a year after I ceased showing up for football practice. It was the 1970s, and I was not impressed by what these United States had become. And the symbology of flag-pledging patriotism seemed tribal at best, utterly orthogonal to justice — or what I understood of the original intent of my favorites among the Founding Fathers.

I could not, in those long-ago vanished days of my youth, imagine Thomas Jefferson insisting that normal citizens salute the flag, much less pledge fealty to it.

Ridiculous. The very idea struck me as ludicrous. I knew that Jefferson thought of Virginia as his country.

So, today, my youthful heresies collide. National Football League players are kneeling instead of standing during the National Anthem. Or staying out of the arena until after the melodic leaps and inapt vocal stylings of “To Anacreon in Heaven” are over.

On the face of it: more power to them.

As for the President’s reaction, it is a sort of knee-jerk patriotism expressed in the standard mouthings of the vulgar tongue. Trolling of the highest order. He gains a lot of sympathy from a huge hunk of the vast (and quickly shrinking) NFL audience. Trump has nothing to lose.

But you know who does have something to lose? Those multi-millionaire NFL entertainers who do not seem to understand that they are throwing the game . . . all in the name of their alleged “cause.” Which, they tell us, is the cause of cop-on-black violence.

Now, this might be admirable, were it not for three things:

  1. When you compare blacks killed by police to whites killed by police, and figure in instances of police-suspect interactions, the percentage of whites killed by police is higher than blacks so killed — that is, to repeat, measured against criminal investigations/police interventions. Why? That is obvious, even upon a cursory look at crime stats. The number of blacks who commit crimes, as a percentage of the population is alarmingly higher than that of whites, it is all out of whack. The ratios indicate that cops might actually be giving blacks some cautious leeway. Racial justice is not the issue.
  2. Besides, why take it out on the U.S. flag? Police are run — funded, managed, and directed — by city, county, and state governments. Most policing is not a federal matter. Acting as if it were so is stupid, uninformed. Witless.
  3. And, it should not be forgotten, these entertainers are under contract. But the collective bargaining agreement has little to say about ceremonial performance while the rule book has become less specific about patriotic observance. Still — most importantly — they play to entertain an audience.*

I hazard that these violence-whores desperately misjudge their social function.

Not only are they entertainers, but they are the “heroes” of the cultural institutions closely associated with the armed forces. “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton,” as the saying goes. And this idea, that the sportive is tightly wedded to the military, cannot be utterly lacking in merit.

And this is why professional athletes, more so than most civilians in American society, are tied to the American nation state (as instantiated in the federal union and especially in its military). Seeing that this is the case, they should probably know their place.

But if these athletes continue to flout custom and rite, fine with me. And if they do so to the degradation of their idiotic sport’s somewhat puzzling high standing in American culture, no skin off my nose.

Setting aside my schadenfreude, if I can, I will here earnestly wish them the best with their cause — properly construed.

If they want to help their local “hoods,” fine.

But the way to help inner-city African-American populations is probably not to alienate Americans outside of those urban hellholes. They need the goodwill of the American people at large.

And, from what I can tell, they are fumbling the ball, if not offsides.

twv

* I originally wrote two sentences in this passage about failure to perform according to contracts, but looking over the collective bargaining agreement (available online), it now seems to me, two days later, that much of what I had read about this subject proves less than reliable. 9/27/2017

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