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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.