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Football: Our New Religion?

January 31, 2014   ·   0 Comments

nytsuperbowl

Above: Screenshots of NYT Super Bowl coverage.

By Murray Polner:

Not long ago, a keen and critical blogger (whose name I don’t know but published his take on the Internet), went after Times Op Ed columnist, Joe Nocera, who he said had been forging a career of—God help us—protesting the sacred state of college and pro football. Drawing on the elitist and erudite William F. Buckley’s crack that he’d rather be ruled by the first 2000 names in the Boston phone directory than by 2,000 Harvard professors, the blogger enlarged Buckley’s maxim to include Nocera’s employer as well: “For my part I’d prefer to be governed by anybody, rather than the editors and columnists of the New York Times.” The writer failed to say who he (or she) preferred governing his life.

Well, for one thing, the blogger is only partially right if he’s not referring to the newspaper’s superb sports writing staff. Alan Schwarz, for example, earned a well-deserved Pulitzer for his penetrating coverage of the football concussion story. Joe Draper regularly breaks stories about race track funny business. Harvey Araton, an old pro, knows his basketball. The paper’s coverage of the business side of sports is unparalleled. So what’s my problem?

It’s that when it comes to events like the Super Bowl the Times coverage is boring and conventional, doing what everyone else in print, TV, even non-sports shows, do and do and do. It means the Times publishing a lavish and obviously expensive supplement plus a full-color display of past Super Bowl rings.

The Super Bowl hovers over all, as if this was a life-changing event and not merely an ephemeral game soon forgotten by all but the most dedicated fans. Its about the many millions gambled, the refashioning of NY’s midtown, how the cops and feds are working hard to prevent another Boston Massacre, the costly TV commercials ad agencies are producing for buyers supposedly panting more new cars and possessions they simply must have plus the bogus “enthusiasm” of otherwise bored local TV talking heads and news readers.

Over and again, we’re told by wannabe pundits that pro football has become America’s new religion, as if what we already have is too fragile, too out-of-date, to withstand the pull of an all-blitz or a TD. My sainted Orthodox Jewish grandfather, Reb Meier, never read a word about the game in his Yiddish newspapers, but if he were alive today he would, I’m sure, ask me what did God have to do with all that mayhem and blood, this “new religion”—not to mention all those people wearing peculiar costumes in the stands?

This new “religion” is in reality an orgy masking the celebration of the military prowess of America’s fighting forces, which by the way hasn’t won a war since 1945 unless you throw in Grenada and Panama. This year, it’s the haves in heated luxury boxes at MetLife Stadium and the shivering have-nots down below. That’s what the Times sports desk should have spent some time on, instead of genuflecting, as all the rest do for this corporate-dominated artificial spectacle, and thus in effect doing PR for an NFL which hauls in billions of net profits each year and whose many teams love building new and newer arenas with public funds. Someone at the paper should have tracked down Hunter Thompson’s weird and brilliant piece in Rolling Stone about one long gone Super Bowl day.

In the end, the NFL’s concussion problem is no longer a secret and will in time be resolved one way or another. Or maybe it will just disappear like the New York Dragons of the Arena League. But it would have been rewarding if the Times had chosen to go beneath and beyond all the Super Bowl circus’s official propaganda line and dared tell we ordinary folks like it really is or might yet become. Just for once.

Next up: The World Cup.

Murray Polner, who writes our Keeping Score column, wrote “No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, co-wrote “Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Lives & Times of Daniel & Philip Berrigan” and once taught in Rikers Island jail.

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