Professor Warren Blumenfeld asks: “Is it simply coincidence that so many high school, collegiate, and professional football players have been charged with committing sexual assault?”
While I admire the majestic Bald Eagle, and I regard the U.S. Constitution as a stunningly intelligent and inspired document, some people treat me as if I have committed patriotic heresy by challenging the long-established unofficial national game of football. Be this as it may, I simply will not watch the Super Bowl, and I cannot support or defend continuance of the sport. In fact, I advocate for its demise.
Why? Well, let me count just some of my reasons (not necessarily in rank order):
1. Promotion and Enhancement of Hierarchical Gender Roles: Under the Friday-night high school stadium lights, amid the teaming throngs of college and university fans each Saturday during the season, and projected onto TV screens and looking down from the stands on Sundays and on Monday nights, we watch rugged men come to battle. They sprint onto the field “sporting” not-so-protective uniforms like their ancient gladiator superheroes from times long past.
Not far from the sidelines, the often scantily-clad hyper-sexualized Barbie Doll cheerleaders whip up an already intoxicated crowd to a fevered pitch. And protruding from this spectacle, we observe the clear reinscription and (re)enforcement of hegemonic masculinity and subordinated femininity comprising the bifurcated social constructions we call “gender.”
2. Promotion of a Culture of Violence: What is the purpose of football? To invade and penetrate the opponent’s territory and thrust into their end zone. By what means does a team accomplish this? Yes, most certainly through skill and strategy (like in soccer, La Cross, basketball, and field hockey, for example). In football, though, a team mounts its invasion by brute force: by knocking over, tackling to the ground, off-balancing, and banging heads like rams upon icy slopes.
I understand full well that my use of the words “invade,” “penetrate,” “opponent’s territory,” “thrust,” “mount,” “banging,” and “end zone” carry clear rape imagery. But I ask, what messages does the game of football really send not merely to the players, but to young fans, and to society writ large?
I would ask, is it simply coincidence that so many high school, collegiate, and professional football players have been charged with committing sexual assault? Is it mere coincidence that allegations of locker room bullying have increasingly surfaced? Why have so few professional football players decided to “come out of the closet” during their active careers, but rather, have waited to publicly announce in retirement? What has held them back?
3. Promotion of Traumatic Brain Injury and Other Bodily Destruction: The current class-action lawsuit filed against the National Football League by a group of over 4000 former players who have charged the league with hiding information about the consequences of concussions highlights what the medical sports community has long known: that even one slight head concussion increases the chances of permanent brain injury, including dementia and Alzheimer’s. With repeated football-induced incidents of concussion, bone-crushing trauma, and breaks throughout a player’s career – whether in junior or senior high, university, or in the big leagues – risk ever increases for life-long damage. Autopsies on brains of former NFL players should set any lingering doubts of this fact to rest.
We should all take heart that our President, Barack Obama, an avid sports fan and someone who watches football on TV, has this year publicly declared that if he had a son, he we not want him to play pro football.
To be clear, I see many benefits to sport generally. For players, it can, indeed, build character, enhance a sense of responsibility, and it can build a collective and cooperative spirit for players and observers alike.
Over the years and only partly tongue in cheek, I have argued that if society granted males permission to touch each other affectionately in friendship, to share the intimate and emotional aspects of themselves, and even to walk arm in arm or holding hands with one another as we sometime see women walking down the street – especially in some European countries — without people calling men’s sexuality into question, then we would no longer have a need for football: a game where men bang against, tackle, and pile on each other, and following a successful play, slap one another’s butts.