FOOTBALL RECAP

 

My wife, Katie, and I awoke this morning and immediately commenced discussing football. That particular subject had never arisen so early. Like local politics in Louisiana or the culture of coffee in Canada, the subject of football has almost never arisen at all between us. But we do consider a variety of rare subjects these days in order to NOT discuss Donald’s daily depredations.

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Why football? Well, as everyone knows, the Eagles won the Super Bowl. And though I’m not a football fan, and have often been ostentatiously oblivious even to the participants in the previous 52 Super Bowls, I admit to being a fair weather Philadelphia sports fan. That’s like seeking sunshine in a rain forest.

 

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My earliest exposure to football consisted of playing catch with my older brothers. I enjoyed that, I recall, but both my brothers had moved on to college by the time I was eight. Football always fell far below baseball, basketball or tennis in my sports hierarchy. Possibly, as I consider it now, that’s because, in the absence of similarly aged kids in the neighborhood, all the other sports could be practiced alone with a wall or a hoop and an imagination.   As for being a fan, baseball appealed to me because of its statistics and history.   Tennis appealed as a chance to witness a deeply personal struggle without the brutality of, say, boxing. Football, with its helmet-shrouded giants, was unrelatable to me.

 

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Football next pricked my consciousness in high school. I played soccer, and we shared the locker room with football players, if 170-pound linemen at a Quaker school really qualify. The teams shared a ritualized sort of relationship. In the parlance of the early 70’s, football players felt compelled to refer to soccer players as faggots and sissies, and we mimicked them with ape sounds and knuckle dragging. “Foo-ball” I still remember pronouncing, like an imbecile. The next morning, in class, we amiably dissected Shakespeare’s sonnets or railed against Nixon’s bombing campaign in Cambodia, as though no unpleasantness had ever intruded.

 

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When I became a parent to a son I spent a moment or two pondering what might happen if Sam ever wanted to play football against our wishes. Would we have one of those agonizing debates? Who would prevail?

I needn’t have worried. Sam seemed as averse to hand-to-hand combat as I’d been and gravitated straight to soccer and then tennis. We never even had to fend off martial arts. (Thank you, Sam).

Though it doesn’t cost me any sleep, I lament the nation’s football obsession and its eclipse of baseball during my lifetime. But I understand it, to some extent. Professional baseball is grindingly dull. Yet, when the movie “Concussion” came out several years ago, highlighting the dangers to the brain from playing football, I felt vindicated in my distaste for the sport. I’d always wondered why young men (and a few women, nowadays) would risk a lifetime of back, neck or knee pain for a high school activity. Now the effect on the brain is paramount in the media (Duhhhhhhh! Who could be surprised?).

 

Many thrill to the sport for the same reasons Romans loved gladiatorial combat. But gladiators were slaves!   Sure, an infinitesimal few eventually get paid to play, but nearly all football players, from “pee-wee” through college, are volunteers. Over the years my eventual viewpoint on football became: it’s appalling, and (paraphrasing the Supreme Court), without redeeming social importance.

 

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So what to do about the Eagles being in the Super Bowl? Some base tribal instinct deep within compelled me to locate a green sweater, green sweatpants and my Phillies cap when we were invited to a neighbor’s watch party. Yet, I still felt ambivalent – could I join in watching a bunch of young men destroy each other’s bodies and futures, e.g., the ability to walk without a limp after age forty, for entertainment? Did I have no principles? How could I allay my moral dilemma?

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I started with Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots. I know he is a dear friend of the Commander in Tweet and donated millions to his cause. For a moment, rooting against his team seemed easy. But then I pondered the fact that most owners are arguably plutocrats. Don’t they all plunder the public for tax breaks while they wrest millions, if not billions, from the networks who, in turn, charge us extortionate cable rates to watch their barbaric product? Robert Kraft may be awful, but he’s no different from the others. The owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, for instance, also donated a million dollars to the inauguration festivities. And he’s a Muslim! Hmmmmm, I decided to check out the situation in Philadelphia and hope, at least, the Eagles’ owner isn’t a convicted swindler or, just as bad, a member of the Republican National Committee.

 

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Ah, nirvana! Jeff Lurie is the Eagles’ long-time owner. Everything written about him indicates he is an exceptionally decent person. A former movie producer, he’s described as kindly, genial and endlessly positive. His passion is social justice. He encourages his players to express themselves. He is described as unique among NFL owners.

 

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And if Lurie’s basic decency isn’t enough, it turns out he’s a dedicated environmentalist. The Eagles’ motto “Go Green” is not just figurative – their stadium is outfitted with wind turbines, thousands of solar panels and a bio-digesting plant, all with the goal of producing zero waste and being carbon neutral. Whenever the Eagles determine they have failed to achieve 100% renewable energy, they pay for tree-planting projects and the like to offset the balance. In the world of sports franchises, the Eagles are unique not only in America, but also in the world.

 

 

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Phew. Research successfully completed, I could go to the party and root for the Eagles without inhibition. And I did. And it was great. And no one described the halftime show as more entertaining than the game. Only one player appeared to have been maimed, as far as I could tell. And Philadelphia has a championship.

Am I now a football fan? No. But rest assured, whenever there is a team whose owner is a wonderful person (I’m not checking with any ex-wives or business partners) and a carbon-neutral stadium, I will root for them to the best of my ability. My efforts certainly helped on Sunday.

 

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