With Super Bowl LI, between the Falcons and the Patriots, fast approaching, it seems like a good time to let you know, NFL, how things have changed between us. But first, let’s look at how they used to be.
For my seventh birthday, I got a football and an Atlanta Falcons t-shirt. I remember going out on that beautiful September day and throwing my new ball with my father. I can remember how, as a little kid, I would watch those awful, mid-70’s Falcons teams until the very end each Sunday, always believing that they would come back from any deficit and win, as long as there was time left on the clock. I knew all the players’ names and positions. I knew all the scores and the remainder of the schedule. When they played on TV, it was an event for me. I set aside everything else to watch and to hope for a win. Usually it was a loss, but I never hesitated to come back for more the next week. When the home games were blacked out (as they almost always were back then), we had a rotary TV antenna, and we would turn it due north. I could watch the home games on fuzzy TV, then, from the Chattanooga CBS station. There were colorful uniforms and bodies flying around everywhere. I wanted wins but didn’t need them. They were the home team. They represented Georgia, my society and the best of its values. And they eventually started to win some, which made it even more exciting.
Then there was Monday Night Football. I was usually not allowed to watch it (due to my bedtime and my parents’ other viewing preferences), so the highlight of my football season was when my parents would go Christmas shopping on a Monday night, and my grandmother would indulge me by letting me see the beginning of the game. My parents would always pick me up by ten, but that didn’t quell my excitement. There were football pencils, stickers and cards. There was Tudor electric football (which, by the way, I’m not leaving). I would check out books on football from the church and school libraries. I read the stories of Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr, though they were already in the past by that time. There was also the Christian comic book, back then, “Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys.” My love of the NFL continued into the 80’s and 90’s with enough Falcon success to keep me interested. Until fairly recently, you have been a habit of mine. How did we get to this place?
It’s been a gradual thing, I think. Domes and turf replaced mud, grass and weather. Free agency wreaked havoc on team loyalty and on what had been entertaining rivalries . Constant talk, highlights and information lowered the value of the brand — too much supply (see Economics 101). The need for players to do silly, low-level dances which will never speak as loudly as great tackles or touchdowns. Men, quietly doing their jobs well, were gradually replaced by overpaid, unruly boys with overinflated egos. And these boys, as visible public figures, have helped to breed a whole generation of self-entitled brats in this country. I saw a big-name player flop around on the ground, like a toddler, when a call didn’t go his way. Makes me wonder if that sort thing influenced the young masses who flopped around like toddlers when the election didn’t go their self-entitled way. Then pink was inserted into what was once one of the last bastions of masculinity. Why not wear red for heart disease (the #1 killer in the country, I’m told), or some color for prostate cancer? Is it because you, NFL, through your lack of character and leadership, caved to the ongoing movement to feminize Western Civilization? Today’s uniforms are visual static. Sound, fundamental play (you’d think that would be the threshold issue for a “professional”) has been replaced by substance-free showmanship. Then the NFL and Arthur Blank felt the need to weigh in on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which was passed by the Georgia State Legislature last year. The NFL and Blank both publicly mischaracterized the legislation, and in doing so, they proved themselves to be against the very core values of the great society and republic established by my ancestors through the American Revolution and following. If a man wants to “marry” a man, I’m content to leave him alone in peace (see History 101 — pursuit of happiness); but when it comes to a formal event which communicates a specific world view, I should likewise be able to freely decide whether or not to participate. That seems pretty simple to me, but apparently not to Blank or to the NFL.
Oh yeah — Jerry Jones fired Tom Landry.
Then came Colin Kaepernick . He and his low-grade ilk have made it easy for me to break my NFL habit. I have never wanted him put in jail for his self-aggrandizing and meaningless “protest.” What I did want was to see moral courage and strong leadership from the NFL with this message: “you work for us, and it’s not acceptable to offend a large part of our customer base, especially when you’re in uniform and on the job.” Yet the NFL has lost its moorings. Minus any clear conviction regarding right and wrong, an abject lack of leadership has emerged as its primary character trait. This is the straw that broke the camel’s back. I realized that if CK (who isn’t grateful to live in a country where he can make big money by sitting on the bench of a losing team which plays a child’s game) wished to kneel during anthems or even burn flags in his own living room or yard, I couldn’t possibly care less; yet it created stress for me to wonder who was going to be kneeling or making what statement at any NFL game. I have enough real stress that I don’t need for my escapist entertainment outlets to add more. Maybe we should make the domes and fields the same as Colin’s living room — private and with very few people in them. I’ll let them do their thing all alone, while I go on with my productive, enjoyable – real – life. The NFL, through its unwillingness to lead, has forgotten what it is.
Many of us have laughed at Andy Griffith’s “What it Was, Was Football,” his 1953 comedy monologue in which he described a college football game from the perspective of a rustic who has never seen or heard of football. Here is its conclusion:
“……it’s some kindly of a contest where they see which bunchful of them men can take that pumpkin and run from one end of that cow pasture to the other without gettin’ knocked down or steppin’ in somethin’.”
In the comedy routine, the joke was on Andy, who in his lack of sophistication didn’t understand what football really was. Ironically, the joke is now on you, NFL, for the same reason.