August 2013

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Sy Schechtman

Dawn is not far off. A patient but only mere mortal editor still waits hopefully for this wayward, dilatory prose to materialize on his desk top, and guilty, remorseful me has blundered into some sort of Norton technical minefield not so eminently fixable! So the immediate deadline has collapsed but all purposeful faith and hope still exist as I blunder on somewhat desperately and grimly. For it is end of summer time, August first----and many men(and very few women, I hope!) are now appearing on outdoor turf marked off in five yard designations with goal posts ten yards beyond and somehow designated as a “gridiron” and has other uses in food preparation other than its unique use as a football field. This aspect, however, so almost coy and quietly announced on the front page of the the New York Times just a few days ago, tried to be rather casual and tentative, merely the pre season conditioning before the rather cruel 16 game regular season begins, right after Labor Day. No big deal, just a less intensive, more tra-la-la fun at the training table!! No expensive bodily injury impairments started by mere pre season conditioning! Although, of course, lack of essential conditioning, both mental and physical, can be a great negative to achieving victory on the actual playing field.

But the utter paradox of the situation is the basic contradiction involved. Football is the concussive, even sometimes lethal violent sport. True, there is much mental stimulus involved, almost an agitated but controlled battle mode frequent chess game involved, with pauses for almost constant battle plan changes if needed. With the object of confounding and confusing the opponent; also, if possible, wear him down physically. Even to the point of physical injury. (The teams “huddle” after each play, a very brief team conclave to reassess the situation and make any needed changes on both offense and defense). Indeed made manifest and undefended was the New Orleans Saints “bounty reward system “ in 2010, with financial bonuses for deliberately injuring opposing players. The National Football League (NFL))insists that the game itself is not the problem, only the improper method of tackling must be altered to remove the ramrod role of the helmeted head of the ardent tackler from impinging on the dynamic thrust of the of straining, thrusting ball carrier. Sort of like the hundred mile an hour car hitting the impregnable solid brick wall.

This doleful reality is starting to drastically impinge on the grim reality of the sport of football. “Why does Goodell (NFL president) pretend otherwise? Perhaps because the NFL is being sued by more than 4,000 former players who allege that the league lied to them and covered up evidence that football can cause long term cognitive damage. Perhaps because the number children ages 6 to 12 playing the sport has dropped 35 percent from 2007 to 2011. Why? Because quite a few former players, including Terry Bradshaw, have said that they never will let their sons participate……..”

As one very experienced retired lineman stated it…..Football isn’t like just driving a car. It’s like driving a car in a demolition derby….the collisions aren’t accidents. But are these rather worrisome events that the league is trying to correct by “playing heads up’ football and not ending up as a last resort tackling the guy with the ball whatever it takes to do it? Even the head as a low lying battering ram a la wild goat? However uncomfortable these current suppositions may be, certain it still is that the Superbowl event early next year, the second Sunday in February at 6 PM, will be watched by more spectators world wide than any other event. It is estimated that about one hundred and eleven million curious or entranced, devout or only wishing to be casually titillated during dinner, watched in 2011. Indeed, so did we about ten or twelve years ago on a Holland American cruise halfway thru the Panama Canal and back. I remember being distinctly disturbed, not being able to coordinate the epic view of the surrounding ocean and the football machinations from wherever the Superbowl was emanating from, and the very elegant food and cruise worthy service aboard our luxury ship. And also the uncomfortable knowledge that almost all the commercial messages were almost all brand new and very expensive per second because they too were keyed to the super size of the estimated worldwide audience.

The prime paradox, indeed, with all of us will be the profound paradox of the television allure of this witches’ brew of armchair viewing. Short bursts of calculated mayhem on your fellow human being, adroitly analyzed as to its almost immediate hurtful efficacy. The vicarious joy of the splendid touchdown pass thrown by the harassed quarterback before he is thrown to the ground, is still a jubilant moment, as is the kick off return for that most adroit runner with the ball eluding many determined tacklers for an almost miraculous , spectacular, almost balletic and untouched touchdown run!

All this at a price, of course. Last year the price of a 30 second commercial during the frequent intervening interruptions of the game seems to be 3.8 milion per 30 seconds, about 300,000 higher than last year. This is now, and the season is not yet underway. And the undercurrent of the injury problems in football are just beginning to surface. That price may still fluctuate, depending to some extent, perhaps, on growing public uneasiness over the long term post foot career of the many all ready retired football players. Why has the NFL not yet done the usual random search among this large pool of football veterans. The NFL was started over fifty years ago. And well before that football was already a universal American sport. Certainly enough of a long term and large pool of subjects to determine the true health hazards of football.

After all I too would enjoy, again, NFL football on Sunday evenings

And Monday nights too in the autumn. (Especially if the Giants make the playoffs!) Years ago Boxing and Prize Fighting were most popular. As a sport it offered physical violence but in the controlled site of a closed off ring and usually a humane referee. It was a splendid venue for the unskilled to try for their their fortune with raw physical ability. This approach faltered then as people became too sophisticated for this somewhat brutal spectacle. But can the vicarious thrill of the hard contact of football be transmuted in some devious, devine(?) manner to balance human dignity with the strenuous effort both physically and mentally?

And also, proper human acceptance----and perhaps a bit of adulation, too. But I hate soccer. Just almost endless running to almost nowhere. Hockey and basketball have more of a plan and the last few minutes of each of these can be somewhat suspenseful, if one is not yet asleep or departed. But if football becomes some sort nebulous non clashing endeavor we are in deep trouble. England was the world’s great superpower in the middle ages and Rome had the great power, burden and glory for many centuries in ancient times. We, of course, are very new at this sort of thing, but have so far learnt one profound message “Carry a big stick but speak softly.” We must never lose sight of that disingenuous but necessary part of our diplomacy. Also that great animal philosopher, Pogo, who uttered in astonishment that we have met the enemy “and he is us!” (So much for Iraqui “weapons of mass destruction”) Or maybe life can still be still be a bowl of cherries; even sour cherries are a delicacy, supposedly.

Remember we are the still the world’s sole super power, somewhat puzzled and weary but still ---most paradoxically—the most solvent debtor nation in world history, where people are still voting with their feet, legally or illegally, to become part of the American scene, even thou some of the cherries are really not so good. In this great country, thou they still are in season, taste pretty good, and are not too expensive! And we definititely do need a national pastime that does exemplify both the great physical effort and tough minded mental prowess needed for victory.

And another marvelous paradox, indeed. That it is not so late this evening, and just a few short midnights after I began!.