Why I didn’t watch the Superbowl

A lot of terrible things happened in 1968. There was the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the My Lai massacre to name just a couple, but there was at least one amazing positive thing: Outside some legion hall in Nashua New Hampshire the Republican candidate for president, a certain Richard Milhous Nixon was about to spend an hour in his limo riding up to Manchester. He was tired, it was late and he just wanted to talk about football during the ride, nothing else. Apparently he loved talking football and none of the hyper-intellectual ivy leaguers in the press corps were even remotely versed enough to engage him save one guy, Hunter S. Thompson.

Did they search him before letting him in the car?

Did they search him before letting him in the car?

So they shared the limo up to the airport chatting about the great game the whole way, having a fine time. They even shook hands as then-candidate Nixon stepped up the stairs into the Lear jet and Thompson flicked his cigarette causing a panic because it landed close to the fueling equipment.

These guys were mortal enemies. Thompson considered Nixon a monster “Straight out of Grendel” and the whole reason he even got into writing about politics was to fight him. On the other side, Nixon stood as a bulwark against the counterculture, drugs, anti-Vietnam, and his path to the presidency was through activating the “silent majority” of American voters who opposed what the good doctor represented. But these two guys shared a passion for professional football and on this they connected. Football has the power to do that, to cross bridges and boundaries. It’s the one thing we share between the classes, the races and the states.

And I hate the NFL for fucking that up.

If I was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looking at the numbers from Sunday I’d be thinking to myself, “I wonder what it would really take for our ratings to actually drop? Finding out we trade in illegally harvested human organs from kidnapped orphans?” Think about it, you have a game damaging the brains of the guys who play it, you have domestic abuse ignored at the highest level and you have corporate practices that can best be described as “crony socialism” more reminiscent of how businesses are structured in China than any Western purportedly capitalist democracy, And yet the consumer knowing this is pretty much saying, “Yeah, whelp, you know. It’s a beautiful fucking game is all…”

Roger Godell is the real winner Sunday Night.

Wait till they find out the turf is actually made of kitten fur

Next year I’m wearing a suit made out of live kittens because who’s gonna stop me?

Personally, I got to a point with football where I was starting to feel shitty watching games. The video of Ray Rice beating his girlfriend, every new revelation about head injury and the notably non-neurologist denialists who feel the need to butt-in with dumb arguments like “soccer produces concussions too!” without any seeming understanding of the magnitude of the problem borne out by the statistics. The team representing our capital is still named after an ethnic slur, for fuck’s sake. It just seemed like a constant parade of yet another dude arrested for murder followed by another suicide then another sexual assault at a college or a high school. Allowing myself to keep a connection to football was demanding increasingly elaborate mental gymnastics.

So it was time to employ one of my favorite pieces of neural equipment: The Cognitive Dissonator™. This is the mental device that makes it possible for us to do specific things even though we kinda sorta know we shouldn’t. It’s what allows me to write this on a computer that was probably assembled by child slaves, eat a BLT that likely came from a factory farm and run my car on fuel pumped out of the ground by one of the most repressive regimes on Earth, a place where they behead people for “witchcraft”.  I imagine that mine looks something like this:

It's also great for holidays family gatherings

It’s also great for holidays and family gatherings

It’s essential to have because we all live in a state of permanent cognitive dissonance around a number of topics. We are all hypocrites, it’s an essential part of being human. As Physicist Niels Bohr once said, “The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.” (Quantum physicists have hyper-developed dissonators, by the way. Manufactured in Copenhagen.)

So employing this device allowed me to live for a while in the dual-reality state of recognizing football for both sides of its coin.

We're entertained just fine, thanks for asking.

We’re entertained just fine, thanks for asking.

But sometime this Spring I found myself having to employ an additional industrial strength dissonator just to keep up with football and the load it was putting on my coping systems.

These are the ones they issue to people working on tobacco accounts at advertising agencies

These are the ones they issue to people working on tobacco accounts at advertising agencies

Still the load was too great. Everything from Sandusky to Stubenvile. From OJ to JoPa. Rice. Peterson. Hernandez. Finding out that the NFL hasn’t paid any taxes since 1966 and that cities use tax free bonds usually reserved for schools and roads to build stadiums for them. Hearing NFL has been running a junk science campaign on CTE and now we learn even high schoolers are being hit hard and repeatedly enough to bring it on. Cheerleaders are treated shamefully. My own high school and the toxic football mania, the quarterback for the Jets ran a dogfighting ring…my dissonator started smoking. It got very warm. There was a noise.

And it just stopped.

Without the protection of cognitive dissonance I found myself having to ask “What would these guys have to do to finally make me stop watching football?” I found that the answer was the steady stream of things they’d already done and continued to do and showed no signs of not doing in the future. I had to cop to the fact that by watching in spite of it all,  I’m giving my tacit approval. The only power I have is to not watch.

So now I’m that guy. I’m the guy who won’t watch football. I can’t say that I like being this particular guy. I enjoyed the pageantry and camaraderie. I loved participating in a thing that could bring even Nixon and Thompson together. So much of our culture, so much great writing, so much hanging with buds and drinking suds. I don’t want to be the precious hipster in art-school dropout glasses who bitches about pop culture. I don’t want to be a dude who can’t instantly bond with the bus driver or the client in a meeting. But…I got overwhelmed. There was too much for me, I know too much about CTE. I live with someone who has a head injury. I grew up in an abusive household in the ’70s when no one gave a shit about domestic violence, just like the NFL today. I did in-depth interviews with 30 neurologists on a project and listened to their stories and their anger at the game they too once loved and are now speaking out against (and some of them even live in Texas).

So I’m not going to debate you and have you be on that side and I’ll be on this side. I’m just telling you that for me it got to be too much. The bad overwhelmed the good. You’d think if Thompson could sit with Nixon for an hour and enjoy each other’s company I could figure out how to put aside my issues and watch a football game, but I can’t.

Then again, Hunter had the benefit of some serious drugs.

Thanksgiving Mad Lib

This week families get together to celebrate Christmas’ younger and distinctly more chill sibling, Thanksgiving. Sure it’s only one day not a whole ‘season’ and there are only a couple of TV specials and that one Adam Sandler song everyone pretends is funny (it is not funny) but there is certainly parity in both holiday’s ability to leave you stranded in transit with nothing to do. Whether you’re splayed out across the terminal seats at a crappy regional airport or stuck in the off-smelling waiting area of a small-town service station held-up until “Chester” can look at your Honda after it started making that weird grinding noise on the Interstate, we’re here to help. You and your traveling companions can while away some fruitless minutes with:


Not pictured: small pox

Not pictured: small pox

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday! It’s a special time to get the whole clan together for meal fit for a [title of William S. Burroughs Novel]______________________. Our family has many traditions, some you’d recognize and a few carried over from [unfashionable foreign country] ______________.

We’re a little old-school, so around here the [exploited group] _____________ are up early to start cooking first thing Thursday morning. By noon the house is full of delicious smells and [negative emotion typically responsive to medication] _________________.

 Soon the family begin to arrive. Some travel by [unaffordable and unnecessarily oversized vehicle] ____________________ others we have to pick up from [neglected public transportation hub] _______________. Uncle [first name of 20th Century European dictator] ___________ will no doubt pour himself a glass of [mass-produced brown liquor] __________________and tell his story about the time he shared an overcrowded restaurant table with [regular guest cast member from Love Boat] __________________ when visiting Los Angeles.

Soon we’re sitting down at a table full of meats dripping with [human hormone] _______________ and and roasted [vegetable that will inevitably be passed over in favor of potatoes] ______________. Also, there is always plenty of [different vegetable with some kind of processed sugar added to make it remotely palatable] ___________________! And let’s not forget a big bowl of [food in the “NEVER” column on the list handed to you by the cardiologist] ___________________with lots of butter. Every year we try a new stuffing recipe. This year will be one featuring [nut and dried fruit combo on sale at Trader Joe’s] _________________________!

 To remind us of the true origins of the holiday Mom reads a prayer by [Native American chief, but it was actually written by a white college professor in the ‘60s] _______________________reminding us of our connection to the Earth and all we have to be grateful for.

 Now it’s time to eat! We always have lively conversations about [topic that is not: immigration policy, climate change, the statistical unlikelihood we live in a universe controlled by a just god and the nature of the relationship of the female “friend” your sister has brought for the past three years running] ___________________. There are a variety of opinions, but the one thing we always agree on is desert! [Person who actually has Master’s Degree in topic everyone else is spouting off uninformed opinions about] _____________ will always be the first one to say, “Hey Mom, isn’t it time for [heated combination of dextrose and carbohydrates] _________________?”

 After the meal we all sit down to watch [Screw it, just write ‘football’] ____________ . Dad always likes to comment on his love for his favorite player [Athlete with multiple arrests and a history of violent behavior] ________________. It’s always great to see our guys out on the gridiron not matter if they wind up with a win or a [permanent, debilitating injury] __________________. Sometimes cousin [overused millennial name like ‘Justin’ or ‘Ashley’] ___________________will suggest we head outside to play a little ‘touch,’ but it usually depends on the [thinly veiled excuse] ______________ if we actually make it out or not.

Eventually Dad succumbs to [chronic, unacknowledged medical condition] ________________ and falls asleep on the couch while mom cleans up and listens to [band that reminds her of a carefree youth oh so many years ago] __________________. That’s the signal head downtown and catch up with old friends. Maybe you’ll even run into [the girl who said, “I’ll wait for you’ and then when you came home from freshman year told you she was confused about her feelings for ‘Jake’ and you’re like, “Who the fuck is Jake?”] ____________________!

 I hear they have two kids now.



No Snark Sunday- Oh Shit, We Need to Stop Letting Kids Play Football

Oh man, this is one I didn’t want to write. It feeds every elitist, latte-sipping, craft-beer-drinking, self righteous hipster stereotype rolled into one vegan organic burrito of preachiness. I’ve dreaded doing this column for a long time, but speaking uncomfortable truths is a sacred task, so here goes:

We really shouldn’t be letting kids play football.

Look, fine. Get angry at me. Spit on my Prius. I don’t have a Prius, but spit on one and pretend it’s mine if you have to. Burn an effigy of a thick-glasses wearing ironic t-shirt figure clad in corduroy. Do what you have to do to make yourself feel better, but when you’re done for fucks’ look at what actually goes on neurologically for kids who play football.

Take a step back: what would be your opinion of a school that featured the competitive eating of lead paint chips as a sport? You’d think they were pretty dumb, right? Now tell me how football is fundamentally different.

Screen shot 2014-10-19 at 10.10.58 AM

It’s not.

Ok, here we go. For the record, I know the following things:

  • I know that football produces “teamwork” and “camaraderie” and “gives people something to rally around, especially in these troubled times when we are questioning our very identity as a city, etc.
  • I know that you may have played football and turned out fine, or that your brother or husband did or whatever.
  • I know there are new rules/equipment now to supposedly make football safer.

When you’re done with the mental gymnastics and apologetics, will you just read the reports on the injuries and deaths and permanent damage being done to kids’ brains by the repetitive (repetitive, turns out is the key here, not just single, obvious concussions) high G hits that are the central component of the game? It’s not like other sports. It’s not like hockey or soccer. There is no other sport where you go running at the opponents with your head and then smash into them on every play (Also cycling without a helmet is crazy-dangerous, as I have said before).

Also what the fuck is up with college wrestling?

Also what the fuck is up with college wrestling?

All the arguments for keeping football as something developing kids do are subjective and based on things like “tradition” and “feelings.” We’re talking about medicine here, and that’s based on science and science does not give a shit about how anyone feels. It just reports the facts and the facts, in this case, are increasingly ugly.

Three years ago I worked on communications for new medical pump to deliver Parkinson’s medication. As part of the project I interviewed 30 neurologists from around the country. At the start of the interview I would let them talk for five minutes on the topic of their choosing. All of them, every last one talked about football or brought it up during the interview. Here is a typical response:

“I’m from Texas. I played football. My Daddy played football. Football around here is religion. There is no way in HELL I would let my son play football… in twenty years, when we look back at what we knew and what we did about it, we’re going to have to ask some hard questions about why we kept letting kids play as long as we did.”

That was not some effete essayist at Salon.com or an ideologically motivated NPR contributor. Neither was it a feminist blogger or some nerd who’d been subjected to wedgies in the locker room. That was a hard-core football fan who also happened to be the head of neurology at a major hospital and research center in Houston, and he’s right. We should not be letting kids play football.

Three kids have died playing the game in just the past month. Eight people died playing football in 2013, all of them high school kids. No one died playing any other high school sport. Football in the United States is more dangerous than Ebola. Knowing everything we know, how can anyone look those parents in the eye? “We were too invested in the idea of ‘tradition’ and our own nostalgia to protect your kid from an obvious and real threat made clear by modern medicine. Sorry.”

It's not this.

It’s not this.

I’m the first one to tell you there is an excess of gaspy “oh mercy!” over-protection of children in our culture. Too many of us wrap their kids up in bubble wrap and don’t let them out of our sight. I, like most people my age, grew up without wearing seat belts or helmets and people smoked indoors and in cars an all over the place. I hate how we’ve extended the infantilization of kids and all the bullshit about how people think predators and abductors are around every corner so kids can’t go to the playground alone. Read this blog and you’ll further see how I can’t stand what a nation of pants-shitters we’ve become over stupid, fake-ass things like the above-mentioned Ebola “threat” in the United States and how there is a general panic over anybody from another country wearing traditional headgear.

This is not that. Football is really, in-reality, absurdly motherfucking-ass dangerous and does long-term damage to kids’ brains and we should stop playing it as an organized and sanctioned sport. Oh, and on the “It provides camaraderie and teamwork for young males while channeling their inherent aggression to positive ends.” People, like, at the Wall Street Journal actually said that. Camaraderie? We’re fucking up kids brains for camaraderie? Really?

Baseball promotes teamwork. So does soccer. And a soccer ball will hit your head once in a game at a max of 20 Gs. Football players in High School take repeated hits (again, it’s the repetition that’s problem) from 20-300gs. Add that up to 200-2,000 hits a season and you’re talking some serious damage as discovered on MRIs of high school players by Purdue University. Read the study. It’s the study I linked to above. Here it is again. A lot of the previous studies have called for further research and these guys finally went and stuck high school-aged players in an MRI brain scanner after recording their hits on an accelerometer mounted inside their helmets. The research is clear.

Football fucks up kids’ brains.

This is not a culture war. This is not about liberals and conservatives. This is data derived from actual research. It’s like smoking: something people thought was safe and now has been proven by science not to be. We should stop doing this.

It’s that simple.