I know it sounds like the ultimate American heresy, but I’m just not a football fan. And it has taken me many years to figure out why.
First of all, there are very few things I’d rather watch than do.
For better or worse, I don’t get much delight from the vicarious experience of watching players on a field.
Most, if not all, teams are regional and owned by large corporations or wealthy individuals who run the teams, leagues and games with a little regard for the health and safety of the players.
I’d like to say that sports events unite us across all incomes, political allegiances and personal backgrounds, but the prices of tickets tells me otherwise.
Even in the stadiums, those who can afford the best tickets inhabit a completely different world than the rest of us. And those who watch from home can only imagine being at the game.
The correlation between major play-offs and the Super Bowl and alcohol abuse, prostitution and domestic violence is well-documented, widespread and depressing.
And the brain damage, arrogance and drug and alcohol-fueled off-field destructiveness of the players is only the public side of a lifestyle and values system that defies any sense of restraint, responsibility and human decency.
Our sports ‘heroes’ are encouraged to swagger through any resistance, and we feign shock when any of them are exposed for domestic abuse, illegal drug use, rape or murder. They have been taught that violence, on or off the field, is the ultimate, or even only, effective tool and we are shocked, we say, to see them use it off the field.
We, love (or hate) football because it is raw masculinity barely disguised as a sport.
And if most football fans were honest, they would admit that brutality (or serious injury) on the field draws the biggest cheers.
I live in the greater Seattle area where Seahawks fever has gripped the streets and skies and bodies of almost everyone, and it strikes me that so many seem so eager, even desperate, for something to believe in or identify with.
And, with such a passionate pitch already achieved, in a sense, it doesn’t really matter who wins or loses (in fact the majority of bets are on which plays will be used or terms called out) and winning or losing, we can be certain that the streets of Denver and Seattle will be filled with chaos after the game.
The good news, I guess, about the Super Bowl (and similar events) is that the passion transcends our usual racial, political and cultural divisions.
In fact, probably the greatest irony of all is that football, the ultimate metaphor for war, the exaltation of pride and violence, unites us like no other cultural expression.
We unite around team colors and chicken wings to celebrate acts of violence that lead to permanent injuries.
Our sports, especially football, express our deepest values and longings. We all hope, at some level, that our enduring fears could be addressed with the finality of a football game – with a clear winner and loser.
Perhaps our sports, like the gladiator contests (and coliseums) of ancient Rome, will stand as enduring monuments to our triumphs real or imagined.
But I can’t help imagining that somewhere there must be a tiny band of those who stand untransfixed, with their eyes on a far larger horizon, who know that yes, a game is a game, and our hopes and passions are only worthy of us when they are anchored in something far beyond a popular game.