I want to simply accept and agree with Janay Rice’s complaints in her “This is our life” message.
“No one knows the pain that media & unwanted [opinions] from the public has caused my family…If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels.”
I understand, I think, that she feels like people who know nothing about her or Ray Rice or the life they share are using her story like a convenient puppet show to make whatever larger social points they feel need to be made about domestic violence, personal responsibility, Roger Goodell, whatever. And all that is true.
And so I want to agree with her “mind your own fucking business” message, but I can’t.
NFL football matters. It seems silly that an organized shoving match-turned sport-turned entertainment behemoth should have any significance beyond the field or the score; that anything beyond the goal post or sidelines should have any greater meaning than the on- or off-screen events in the lives of cast or contestants on American Idol. But it does. And not just because “players are role models for our children.” Everyfrigginbody on TV–or just with access to a video camera and an internet connection, for that matter– can now be a role model for our children.
Choices made by team front offices, league officials and individual players matter.
Here’s why: Even including the entire American film industry, no other American cultural phenomenon has as much meaning, is as iconic of and for us, as the National Football League. Its images, metaphors, myths, symbols and tropes permeate the way talk and think about nearly every core institution of our society. Business, politics, government, citizenship, parenting, personal conduct, and whatever else you can think of…NFL Football now stands for the American Way of all of it all, and it all stands for NFL Football. The status of the NFL now is easily equal to the status of the American space program in the years between John Glen’s blastoff into “outerspace” and Neil Armstrong’s Giant Leap to the moon.[i]
NFL Football matters. And so what has transpired in the aftermath of Ray Rice’s brutal assault on Janay Palmer matters in a non-entertainment media “news” story way. This week, as we’ve watched the spectacle of mostly bullshit media coverage and commentary unfold, variations on the “Janay question” keep emerging (Why did she do that bizarre joint apology interview with him? Why didn’t she leave him? Why did she go ahead with the marriage? What is wrong with Janay Palmer—something must be…), often in veiled fashion. I know I’m not alone in thinking that, actually, in this whole matter there’s only one person whose choices have no business being questioned and only one question that is an entirely private matter: Janay Palmer and how she responded to Rice’s assault on her. EVERY other-fucking-body else—certainly starting with Ray Rice himself, but also the first people to see the elevator doors open to the scene of a man nonchalantly dragging the body of an unconscious woman and unceremoniously dropping her head on the floor in front of them, as well as the hotel management who didn’t blow the whistle on what they knew happened, and especially the criminally inept police and prosecutor in Atlantic City, on through the entire front office of the Baltimore Ravens, the entire League and sinisterly idiotic Roger Goodell , as well as the sports “press”, and (maybe especially)those of us who went ahead and watched this week’s NFL opening games (including me—all have some serious public questions to answer about our choices in the face of Ray Rice’s cold act of brutality and the ensuing decision that, up until yesterday, it just didn’t matter enough to put a dent or a dimple in business as usual for the NFL, for the team, for the player, for the fans.
Beyond this incident and the aggregated litany of scandal, more fundamentally, the NFL is profoundly sick and so is our relationship with it. The time is long overdue for reckoning—all the myths, images, symbols, metaphors, business models, advertising campaigns, and other assorted brain-goo we associate with the enjoyment of NFL football must now be reevaluated and reflected upon in light of how we have seen it and our national culture evolve over the last quarter-century. Questions about cause and effect, chicken-egg, dependent and independent variables, and so forth make no difference. NFL football and American culture are now codependent, co-arising phenomena. How we choose to relate to one is inextricably intertwined with how we relate to the other.
For those of us who believe that 21st century America suffers from the corrosive effects of violence and its glorification, misogyny, xenophobia (a word I use here as a proxy for the mentality that authorizes the disparate treatment of people who are guilty of being different or of otherwise placing themselves in some despised group or other), rampant and all-pervasive commercial marketing, the collusion of journalism with institutions of power, winner take all triumphalism, and reactionary politics nothing comes even close to NFL Football as a reigning master metaphor for how we see ourselves or how the world sees us. We all share responsibility for what we have allowed the NFL to become—for the slouching beast we have fed and pampered and encouraged. We are all accessories to the rich variety of shit-stained behaviors of Roger Goodell and the NFL team owners and the NFL marketing juggernaut (which includes the alleged sports “press”—and yes, even most of the independent and critical outlets are parasitically part of it).
The growing awareness of NFL’s sickeningness started for me in earnest when I saw how not only the predictably vile Dan Snyder but so many NFL fans across the country reacted to criticisms of the team name. The insistence on speaking the same language as the team’s PR cynics—“not an insult but an honor”, “political correctness”, “tradition”, “brand value”, all this vomit to work around the problem of obvious racism. Belatedly, the cultural hegemony of NFL ideology became clear to me in that episode, and through that awakened sense, I’ve seen how it is and has been at play going back to 1984 and that market-changing moment during Superbowl XVIII when Apple unveiled its completely over-the-top “1984” commercial, the consolidating NFLdom’s cultural takeover of America by begun with the dawn of NFL Films and their brilliant slow-motion glorifications of NFL game play, narrated by God (using the voice of John Facenda) together, NFL Films and Facenda could make an AFL backup running back bending over to retie his muddy cleats seem as momentous as the invasion of Normandy.)
It’s all become just too much. Too utterly intolerable. It’s time to put a stop to it.
If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, it’s time to simply stop. Stop participating in NFL entertainment. Stop watching, stop following the developments stop attending, stop paying attention. Quit fantasy football. Give your Madden NFL game to someone who cares.
Live off the NFL grid.
Well, anyway, I’m done with it all. No more football this fall or ever. I have an inkling other football fans, enthusiasts, and followers are toying with this idea as well or have already made that decision.
Not a boycott. Boycotting is designed to send a message in the pursuit of a specific change of policy or practice by the target. I want no change of policies or practices from the NFL or, for that matter, from the NCAA or its college football teams, or the pee wee leagues around the country or their twisted coaches. The cultural significance of football itself–as it now stands entirely corrupted by the gravitational force of the NFL—must wither and die. If the game of football can survive as a game without the ridiculous significance we currently place on it, without its alleged values and virtues being referred to as a model for citizenship, business achievement, wholesome living, healthful faith, faithful health, the American Way of Life®, and so forth, fine I guess. I no longer care.
I know for a lot of people like me Sundays and football form a really deep groove of memory and meaning. For me and my father, rooting together for the Redskins in the 1970s and 80s was about the only positive interaction between us—it was our only shared interest and about the only thing we could talk about without descending into some seriously dysfunctional rage vortex. It was important and without that shared experience, my memories of him would be pretty bleak. Honestly.
The same medium allowed me and my then father-in-law to share holidays in the same space for four quarters worth of relaxation from the tension of barely suppressed cultural and political loathing that permeated the rest of time we spent in proximity to one another. Married as I was to the man’s daughter, that trivial bridge, frail and silly for sure, was nonetheless welcome as a medium of familial ceasefire.
However. Be it whatever degree of First-World heartbreak it may, I am done with it.
[i] For those too young to recall, rocketships, astronauts, and the space race were a cultural phenomenon more penetrating than even Beatlemania.