For two decades, I have celebrated the start of the National Football League’s season. Yet this year I cannot swallow it whole.
In normal times, sexism and over-the-top flag-waving attach themselves to the NFL like slime barnacles on a boat and a deft pressing of the mute button blocks out the bluster. But in these upside-down times when war is peace, occupation is liberation, and democracy means voting for one of two pro-war Yalies, the game has been subsumed by a cesspool of war mongering impossible to ignore.
The stink was up my nose during the season’s opening game between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. Timed to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11, we were force fed bomber jets, silicon adorned cheerleaders, and Hank Williams, Jr., asking us if we were ‘ready for some football’ and all before the opening kickoff.
Williams, Jr. is a fitting choice amidst the planes, pompoms, and patriotic poobah. In his hit 1988 song, a historical epic called, “If the South Would have Won,” he chortled:
“If the South would have won we would have it made
I’d make my supreme court down in Texas
and we wouldn’t have no killers getting off free
If they were proven guilty then they would swing quickly,
instead of writing’ books and smiling’ on T.V
We’d put Florida on the right track, ’cause we’d take Miami back” [from who? Jews? Cubans? Haitians? Or will Hank go for the trifecta?]
“I said if the south would a won we would a had it made!
Might even be better off!”
[In a league that is 65% Black, yet 80% of the coaches, 94% of the General Managers, and 100% of the owners are white, a paean to plantation life seems disturbingly appropriate.]
Given the flag waving, war posturing, and the swirling dervish of sexism I understand why there are courageous radicals who would sooner spoon-hug with Dick Cheney before watching the rest of the game; why there are heroic activists who would rather watch Alan Keyes in Mel Gibson’s ‘Othello’ before joining a tailgate; why there are principled vegans who would prefer drinking a mug of gravy and flossing with gristle than do anything that involves John Madden.
But if you turned the channel, you missed a display of everything great about the gridiron – wild running by Corey Dillon and Edge James, sharp passing by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and a spine tingling end with a Colt fumble and missed field goal in the final 3 minutes.
The game had more suspense than anything since the scene in ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ when you wonder if George W. Bush was ever going to put down ‘My Pet Goat’.
Yet when it was all done, the taste of a sports production drenched in right-wing sludge lingered, like I had spent three hours chewing Tylenol.
I now believe that it’s time to be heard and I know I am not alone. Us radical helmet huggers want our game a-la-carte: 60 minutes of football, hold the militaristic pep-rally.
I’m tired of pressing the mute button on myself. If network honchos will exploit football for political gain, we should return the favor.
The next time we’re at the stadium or in the sports bar and the game is being used as a vessel to push an agenda completely at odds with the kind of world we want to live in, let’s open our mouths and speak out.
When the national anthem is played, don’t stand up. Instead ask the person next to you if they know that the anthem was regimented during sporting events as a way to rally people around World War II. When salaries of players are mentioned, tell a stranger that their paychecks were won through union battles that included strikes with armed picket lines in the 1980s. When warplanes fly overhead ask how many peewee teams, and physical education classes are cut for each jet. When Romeo Crennell, Ted Cottrell, or any of the talented African-American assistant coaches show up on screen, ask why Dennis Erickson [career record 38-43] of the 49ers has a top job while they remain anonymous.
This might not make you the most popular person in the room, but if you scratch the surface with most folks, it’s amazing what you can find. Over 50% of this country thinks we are moving in the wrong direction and oppose the continuing occupation in Iraq. A lot of those folks spend their Sunday watching the patriotic hoedown thrown by the NFL. I say it’s time to crash the party.
Are we ready for some football? Sure, but let’s turn the question around and ask: Is football ready for us?
DAVE ZIRIN has a book coming out this Spring 2005, “What’s My Name Fool: Sports and Resistance in the United States (Haymarket Books). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.