As is my custom I managed to mostly ignore football until the very end of the season. Like baseball I find football to be a Sisyphean task. It’s not as egregious as baseball (162 games in the regular season? Really?) and the relatively few games, along with the single-elimination playoffs, have a certain Mesoamerican aspect to them reminiscent of Ullamaliztli, the Aztec game where it is suspected the losers were sacrificed and their heads used as balls in subsequent games. It was this savage aspect of football I found particularly disturbing after watching a recent game.
As I’ve said before in my post about Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl our kids are really not interested in watching professional sports. They make an effort for soccer because they know I’m a big fan – and it fits their Logic of Sports: why don’t they just go around the other team? Soccer is one of the few sports where it’s obvious the point of the game is to go around the other team. Football just goes through the other team with lots of crashing into each other. Basketball goes back and forth A LOT so there’s not really time to go around. And baseball? They don’t know what the hell is going on there. Before you ask, yes, I’ve tried to explain, friends have tried to explain, grandparents have tried to explain, uncles and cousins have tried to explain. I think they’re simply not interested enough to try to understand.
And that’s ok.
Even so, the other day presented a unique football opportunity. The team I had been rooting for all my life (insert culturally insensitive name from our nation’s capital) was playing the hopefully resurgent team from my adopted city in the first round of the playoffs. With the promise of an exciting and closely matched game mixed with some father/son bonding I took our son to a local pizza restaurant to load up on garlic bread and root beer and watch the game.
As far as my son was concerned nothing had changed. He made an admirable effort to support the team I was supporting. I tried to explain why everyone was crashing into each other (still not getting it) and he was just as horrified as I when the leg of DC’s sensational rookie quarterback twisted at a grotesque angle because he had been playing on an injured knee for weeks.
In the end my old team lost in a pretty boring game and even though I told myself that I could be happy with whoever won I found myself unusually disturbed. I will cheerfully support Seattle in their ongoing efforts but why was the loss bothering me so much? Ultimately it had nothing to do with nostalgia for the old team even though the rookie quarterback, RGIII, had electrified the whole league and brought hope to a team that hadn’t entertained serious playoff ambitions in over a decade. The excitement had encouraged me to follow them during a good part of the regular season and I came to realize that watching that hope and promise fade with RGIII’s injury was really at the root of my unease. Here was another young body smashed by the increasingly uncontrollable violence of American football. I don’t know how many conversations I’ve had this year about kids our son’s age playing football and how disturbing so many parents find the idea. There has been some hand wringing in the media about the medical issues created by a career in football but ultimately I don’t see things changing. It’s a free country and the people and players who love football are free to pursue it.
For me, I’m going to give up trying to get my son interested in following it. He doesn’t really care and I’m fine with that.
After all, we’ll always have soccer.