All football fans, myself included, have a problem. The beloved game, gloriously embodied by last night's incredible drama, is an act of cruelty, and nobody who is sensible or honest can pretend anymore. No less a figure than President Obama has acknowledged the new reality of football's barbarity in an interview with The New Republic in which he doubted whether he would allow his sons, if he had any, to play the game. Malcolm Gladwell claimed that he wasn't watching the Super Bowl this year, because it's just too sickening. They're right. You can read the gruesome details in Tom Junod's article in Esquire's February issue, "Theater of Pain," which everyone who watches football should read. The money quote to me is the following:
According to a study conducted by the National Football League, the approximately two thousand players active on the thirty-two NFL teams suffered about forty-five hundred injuries in 2011, for an injury rate of 225 percent. These were injuries that caused not simply pain and discomfort but also cost players at least two weeks of playing time; these were not simply bruises and scratches and abrasions but also concussions, torn ACLs, ruptured Achilles tendons, high ankle sprains, hyperextended elbows, broken metatarsals, turf toes, stretched or compressed spines, pulled hamstrings, and torn muscles, along with assorted strains, contusions, and herniations. These constitute, for the players who experience them, at least the first paragraph of the writing on the wall — because in the NFL the writing on the wall is always written directly on the body.
It's a chilling description of a blood sport, pure and simple. Gladitorial combat. And I agree in principle that watching football is more or less indefensible, but I watched the Super Bowl anyway. I don't know how I wouldn't.