Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Guilt Trips Usually Reach No Destination

Many Americans like to watch football. They are not responsible for Adrian Peterson beating his children, nor for Ray Rice and the other players who have slugged or will slug women. That's on the people who commit the crimes.

Neither are fans responsible for the NFL and NFL teams' blithering incompetence in coping when players become a danger to the outside world as well as to each other. Customers aren't what cause mismanagement. Complacency bred of decades of success is part of why the NFL has been so bereft of either good judgment or moral sense, but popularity doesn't generate complacency automatically. It takes greed, short-sightedness and arrogance, too. Fans didn't bring those to Roger Goodell's tailgate.

Dragging the fans into the blamefest related to Peterson and Rice, as some professional scolds have tried to do, is wrong. It also gives we fans too easy an out from a football issue for which our moral responsibility is enormous.

People who like to watch football are contributing directly to destroying the minds and bodies of the people they're watching. The medical evidence has become impossible to ignore without willful denial. That quandary should be addressed or at least recognized by every follower of the sport.

I think about the issue. I've written about it on this blog for years now. It doesn't mean I have stopped watching football, although I'm not watching as much as I used to. It doesn't mean I still don't love football. It's just not blind love. I don't want to be co-dependent on football. If the sport doesn't significantly improve player safety, which may not even be possible, my fan level will drop from avid to casual to what else is on.

Don't know how long that progression will take. I'd guess it would quite a while. Five seasons? Ten? For sure it'd be more than the right now yesterday demanded by those selfsame scolds.

In columns today running on parallel tracks of error, Dan Shaughnessy of the Globe and Michael Powell of the New York Times both expressed indignation/bemusement/cynical scorn that despite the debacles of the month, pro football remains popular. The subtext, of course, was "you people reading the sports section, you like football. Shame on you!"

Aside from the questionable business practice of ragging on the customers, the lack of perception expressed by Powell and Shaughnessy, whom I hasten to add have been far from the only commentators from the sports world and otherwise to say or write the same tripe, is dazzling. Are they aware of, oh, all of human history?

People can and do change every day. Change however, seldom comes quickly and almost never immediately. The rate of change in mass human behavior is slower still. To believe football fans should immediately lose interest in a pastime they've practiced for years because of the collateral damage of its violence is to hold them to a standard of moral behavior achieved by no society ever.

Coincidentally, this also gives fans a swell excuse to ignore said damage. Most folks are willing to accept only what they see as their fair share of responsibility.  Almost all know damn well they had nothing to do with Peterson or Rice's actions. It's an easy if incorrect rationalization to leap to thinking those brain-damaged former players have nothing to do with them either.

The demand for perfect behavior is the enemy of the reflection needed to generate gradual improvement. The NFL's popularity will never just drop off the table. If it ever declines, it will be through erosion, not implosion.

Fandom is a habit. Habits are hard to break. Habits shared by millions of people never end in an outbreak of mass cold turkey.

They can shrink, though The Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health was published on January 11, 2014.  Smoking was still really popular in February 1964. Fifty years later, it's an outcast habit shunned by most Americans and limited by society as a matter of law.

If football can't or won't change, will its human toll make it a broken habit in 50 years? Beats me. I have enough trouble figuring out how I should treat the game. Fans should know the score. After that, I refuse to advise them, let alone scold them.


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