Meet Davetavius, everyone, otherwise known as Mr. Nine Deuce. We talk about football A LOT, and he, as the world’s foremost hater of University of Alabama football and the NFL in general, has some things to say about the subject:
This is a strange blog for me to write as it’s the first blog I’ve written that 1) is a bit redundant (in terms that’ll it’ll invoke past subject matter specifically), 2) isn’t exactly what I want to write about (as the retardedness of sports-culture has been well documented already here -– and I’d intended to move on towards more actually substantial material), and 3) is influenced by some degree of personal pressure.
My Alabama football blog got a lot of attention. It got a lot of hits (for an egotistical “Let me tell you what the fuck is going down” blog), spurred some dialogue amongst the non-converted, and also managed to offend large portions of my family who stumbled upon it even though I had no intention of being anything other than an anonymous dick-headed purveyor of social criticism/faux avant-garde arrogance/passe uber-snarkism.
The simple fact is that I’d always wanted to write about University of Alabama college football. It’d just always been such a striking phenomenon to me. Here’s this state with so many deep complex problems incurred by the history of its Southern/geographically rural reality, so isolated from mainstream American intellectual dialogue/media exposure, so associatively rich with the quintessentially American traits of independence and rebelliousness, yet so tame, trite, and conformist in what its inhabitants chose to rally around as an expression of solidarity/identity. The actuality of the phenomenon was spelled out loud and clear in my University of Alabama blog: Alabamians aren’t so much enthralled with University of Alabama football as much as they want to establish a universal sense of pride amongst themselves in a way every one of its citizens can grasp and identify with. Living in a nation where your regional history, existence, and substance is generally derided, ignored, or scoffed at generates a desire to establish a presence in which you feel like you can be recognized — and given the reality of the state of Alabama’s circumstances, it’s no real surprise that it chose to flex its collective voice through a medium through which it felt it couldn’t be ignored: nationally competitive popular sports; the political realities/complexities are generally ignored and –in the case of college football– the path to success isn’t limited so much by rules as by a desire to succeed. My problem with University of Alabama football lies in the over-commitment of the state’s citizenry to such an essentially useless medium of self-identification. Culture in the state of Alabama has developed around a desire to succeed in something that’s been nationally ordained as a symbol of American success, but that is essentially worthless. So in a desire to cultivate pride, Alabama has essentially acquired for itself the reputation as being the state that cares the most about meaninglessness, which belies the inherent spirit of its inhabitants. I could care less about college football (in fact I loathe it), but I’ve always been something of an Auburn fan simply because I know that being a fan of Auburn collegiate football in the state of Alabama is a symbol that you believe there’s more out there. And there is more out there, and while no other component of the reality we know is as nefarious and misguided as University of Alabama college football (except for the Coen brothers’ film No Country for Old Men) … the problem has very little to do with the citizenry of Alabama, and much more to do with American football’s influence and history in America.
The origin of American football was a strange morphing of rugby (a comparatively fluid — albeit equally boring — English game) and jingoistic ideas about America’s status as a violent, dominant, imperialistic power. The first collegiate football games were essentially rugby games, but gradually became brutal manifestations of violence that Theodore Roosevelt was so mortified by (as any compassionate elephant hunter would be) that he introduced legislation via presidential mandate to illegalize the game entirely due to a garish number of fatalities and injuries in the early 20th century. Threatened by such a real, governmental attempt to banish its very existence, football enacted certain rules that “cleaned up” the game in terms of violent egregiousness, but that turned the game into a less of an “anything goes fight to move the ball forward” into a more sanitized, stagnant war simulation. The game inherited the strange phenomena of “the line of scrimmage” and four “downs” (attempts) to move the ball forward 10 yards, with each successful movement of the ball 10 yards or more over 4 downs resetting the cycle, with a game-clock from which each increment of “battle” would be subtracted from the total amount of game to be played (confusing and off-putting I know — I’ll get to that). Thus — instead of a blatantly violent, essentially lawless melee — the sport became more of a strategic equivalent to legal war: under the rules allowed by the laws of the game, the team which functioned most effectively would be the winner. This proved to be enough of a deft move to keep the fans of the original barbaric game engaged, appeal to the growing American nationalism of the day, and win even more fans as it was less obviously unseemly. It was from here that football established itself as kind of a grassroots manifestation of American conquering pride. Other countries played games… we played wars.
With the sport of football so lacking in the traditional fluidity, grace, artfulness, and skill associated with most other popular world sports at the time, the appeal of the sport seemed to be limited to a certain breed of aggressive, dumb men. But in the 1960’s the NFL capitalized on the sport’s prior appeal of violent, obedient, calculated domination by positioning itself to not only take advantage of the dawn of television as a juggernaut, but also to shrewdly utilize its lack of history/malleability as a game to morph its product — by rule change and amendment — into a desirable television/advertising product first and foremost. With the possible exception of basketball, most popular world sports exist as sports in which television must operate around the parameters of the game: the construction and tradition of the sport being created as a participatory endeavor first, essentially creates a situation where television has to work around the game to function effectively. Some examples are: 1) In tennis, the commercials occur at tasteful breaks between games and sets, 2) in baseball, between innings, 3) in soccer, at half-time and within camera view during matches, etc. American football is perhaps the only game on record to exist as an intentional devolution as sporting phenomenon and evolution as business/marketing idea. People rarely “play” football outside of socially loaded organizational paradigms involving a need to “obey and achieve,” and when they do it turns into a confusing amalgamation of something entirely different: kids don’t play backyard football anymore (because they’re smart enough to know there’re a billion better things to do with their time) , but when I was a kid we did… by improvisationally turning the game into something we could understand. This was no mean feat: professional football commentators/coaches/players/referees are frequently at a loss to explain where the game stands during a given competition because the list of rules is such a staggering combination of opacity and abundance that it’s completely acceptable for all of them to have to take breaks during games to confer and figure out what the hell is even going on. This is a key point: in other sports the question is about whether an infraction of the rules occurred. Was the ball out of the play boundaries, was a foul committed by/on a player? In American professional football, there are usually several instances per contest where no one but the referees are even remotely confident of the legality of a play. Are you a football fan? Quick, what are “too many men in motion,” what is “illegal procedure,” what is an “illegal formation”? No Wikipedia-ing allowed. Why is football the national pastime when 99.999% of it’s followers aren’t even sure what’s going on? Because the interest in football isn’t as a sport, but as a vessel of American consumerism and pride expressing itself through a paradigm of conformity. The business genius the NFL realized when it began its relationship with television in the 1960’s was that nobody really cared about the sport of American football, they just cared about “rocking ass American style,” and the NFL used TV to give them what they wanted. The uniforms were sensational — making the game’s players seem less like athletes and more like gaudy, super-heroic, violent astronauts. The game had become perfectly suited for commercial breaks (and devolved itself into allowing more and more “official opportunities” to take them), with so many breaks in action (the average televised football game lasts 215 minutes with an average of 11 minutes of actual game activity), that a football game wasn’t very identifiable as a sporting event, but was in fact a hodge-podge of television production. This was the key to football’s explosion in popularity during the mid 60’s and 70’s. “You don’t like sports? Well you don’t have to like sports to like football, because it’s not really a sport: It’s a show.” There’s nothing essentially wrong with this superficially. Why someone would arbitrarily decide to attach passion and commitment to meaningless games involving balls and rules is rooted in luxurious entertainment at best and willful ignorance at worst, but if there is a value in sport it’s in its ability to showcase pure competitive drama. Every sports contest isn’t entertaining, but most do have the potential to be captivating: simply because at best, sports are a medium of showcasing human skill and creativity in a dramatic setting that is by rule uncontrived. American football became the opposite of this. “Don’t know what’s going on? It doesn’t matter, here’s a promotion for NBC’s new sit-com. Still don’t care? Wait until half-time when we’ll have interviews with the cast of The Dukes of Hazzard. Still don’t care? Give us a minute and we’ll have dumb beer commercials with nearly-naked, sexually available, mentally vacant women.” In becoming a vehicle for entertainment rather than sport, American football became wildly successful by combining its appeal to aggressive American nationalism with an ability to become a pure medium for capitalist entertainment. The effect on America has been dreary.
My Alabama football blog explored the worst case scenario effect of American football on a mostly rural level. College football is — by and large — a game of rural America whose appeal to participants and supporters is to establish for themselves a nationally heard voice for their area. I grew up mostly in the South. The first SEC football game I went to was not only spectacular, but also the first time I ever saw national media in the same place I was. When you think about how many people have experiences like this, it’s easy to see why college football is such a huge deal in rural areas. When I was a kid, attending my first SEC football game in the most spectacular setting I’d ever been in with television cameras everywhere, my first reaction wasn’t to question the social health of what was going on, but to think: “This is definitely the raddest shit I’ve ever seen in Starkville, Mississippi.” College football is most of rural America’s connection to the rest of America, its identity as it were. And this identity expands outward. In most rural societies high school football is a big deal. My little league football team was a waaay bigger deal than it should have been. Going to football games becomes the family highlight of the week. Little girls want to become cheerleaders. Little boys want to play football. A few goth kids hang out at Denny’s and are called faggots. This is rural America. I’m not entirely stoked about it, but I understand.
What’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to understand however is the NFL’s stranglehold on America’s collective conscience. The NFL’s marketing brilliance/shamelessness has been documented here and elsewhere, but what I don’t think I’ve ever read is the effect the NFL’s diet of pure consumerism is currently having/has had on America’s citizenry. I don’t think there’s another entity that’s as destructive to the intellectual fabric of America. Think about it: 1) a sport based upon the fundamental tenets of violent, obedient, legal, physical domination is the sport of the nation even though the nation itself doesn’t entirely understand the rules of “their sport”, 2) it’s perhaps the leader in American propagation of misogyny as the only place for women in the sport is to exist as shiny, supportive, sex-objects, 3) it has become America’s dominant television entity by essentially offering 1 part contrived base elements of cliched-machismo with 10 parts stupid advertising. This is America’s game. Guess what this creates?
This is a really obvious example, but it’s perfect (it’s not like the NFL does anything that isn’t obvious). This sums up about 99% of the NFL. That stupid fucking commercial ran for years, with like, 10 different incarnations. ESPN played a special updated segment of it once a week with the lyrics changed to coincide with whatever had happened in the NFL that week, the only thing remaining constant being the stupidity and misogyny. Rural America might be aligning itself a bit unhealthily with a sport in search of community and identity, but the NFL is making the majority of the men everywhere in America completely retarded. And the effects reverberate through society. My favorite example of this reverberation is on plane rides. There are three types of people on plane rides: 1) those that want you to leave them the fuck alone, 2) those that want to talk to you about the NFL, and 3) those that wouldn’t mind talking to you but are afraid you’re just going to talk about the NFL. It goes like this: businessmen on flights are the loudest, most major airport cities have NFL teams, and the businessmen think the best way they can break the ice with you before they tell you about how responsible they are for their company’s “unit growth” is to talk about the NFL. It’s real fucking lame. They all speak in what my wife calls “the NFL accent,” that loud, blowhardedly presumptuous, arrogantly overconfident voice that’s frequently punctuated with self-satisfied fake laughter. All businessmen on airplanes have the NFL accent — unless they own the plane — but the NFL accent and the NFL are everywhere. The sweet part is that the rest of us have to deal with it.
I used to work at a bar outside of Atlanta that did 30% of its business on Sundays because all the NFL games were on different televisions and it stayed full from open to close with NFL fans. They were nearly all the same people. They had good enough jobs to enjoy themselves on Sunday but weren’t necessarily happy or financially secure. They’d all moved from somewhere else because they’d heard Atlanta was a good place for jobs. They’d come to this sports bar to watch their NFL team to support the team they’d grown up with, and be around some other people they might talk to but rarely did. There were plenty of women there — obviously fulfilling roles as “cool wives/girlfriends” — and they seemed to be just about as into it as the men, which wasn’t much. There were a few very loud, clownishly obnoxious men, whose ridiculousness was the only consistently entertaining feature of those Sundays. It was the same all year round. Every Sunday was exactly the same. Even the playoffs were the same. A kind of grimly depressing surrender to what they thought was supposed to be the best thing to do that day, even though it was mostly just a sad spectacle punctuated by various levels of intoxication.
But Super Bowl Sunday was different. All the TV’s were on one game. The volume of the game boomed over every inch of the bar. There was excitement over the game and whatever manufactured drama had been created by the media. Everybody talked about how they thought the half-time show would go, and discussed their opinions on Bruce Springsteen or Jessica Simpson or whoever the hell was supposed to go on. Excitement brimmed over the commercials as the Super Bowl has the most expensive commercials on Earth, and NFL fans are into expensive commercials like Radiohead fans are into fashionable hats. When the game started, oohs and ahs sounded in unison. Laughter arose throughout the bar during every dumb gag during every hackneyed commercial. The loud buffoons were there, but instead of taking the edge off the dreariness, they actually made everyone happy. The half-time show offered the “cool wives/girlfriends” an opportunity to voice whatever opinions they had on mass popular culture/music as the men got drunker. I remember that no one wanted half-time to end. No one would openly admit that they didn’t care about the game, but when the second half started, there was a tangible feeling of decline, kind of like the moment on Christmas day when all the presents are open, and the only thing left to do is play with what you’ve got. The game winded down as did the mood of the bar. People were still happy it was Super Bowl Sunday, but knew the end was near. The game ended and the very drunk stayed and the not so drunk left, much the same as any Sunday, but I remembered how happy everyone in the bar had been. It struck me that all these people just wanted to connect with something, and that for some reason they’d gotten it in their minds that that thing was supposed to be the NFL. I didn’t know, nor did they, what they would do until the next football season. Sure they’d follow the ridiculous things NFL fans keep track of during the off-season like the draft, player-signings, etc., but what they really wanted wasn’t football but a connection to something. It was truly tragic. I thought of college football fans’ passion stemming from regional pride and began to see more vividly than I had ever seen before that these people’s devotion to the NFL had instilled in them an emptiness they didn’t understand. They wanted to be a part of something bigger, but had instead just become voids, trained culturally to accept advertising in the stead of meaningfulness.
The insidiousness of American football really dawned on me. From the black Americans that associate it with success and an America they have a part in despite the marginalizing effects it has on black America at large, from the many women that are expected to tolerate its misogyny as a part of standard American culture, from the homosexuals who find in football’s every manifestation a sentiment of livid homophobia, from the boys and girls that grow up in rural areas thinking football’s their connection to the rest of America, from the innocent television viewers that think football’s the heart and pride of America, and from the throngs of the slightly askew for which football’s conformist hegemony of homogeneity establishes a de facto existence of ridicule, American football has negatively affected the lives of the overwhelming majority of its citizens. It’s Super Bowl Sunday today. Start the rebuilding process and watch the Karate Kid Part III instead. Let the healing begin.