If aliens invaded the United States and observed the weekly national violence that occurs during the fall and winter called the NFL they might not be surprised at how violent the country is, consequently. To them it might seem like we worship the barbaric military sport every week, as we root for the team that is merely wearing the right laundry, as Jerry Seinfeld notes. It is hard to justify the bizarre behavior, and I can’t, even as I buy into the weekly contests. I participate in two fantasy football leagues and a suicide pool, listen to sports talk, and get rather emotionally invested in the performance of one Philadelphia team.
It just so happens that that particular team, the Eagles, is 3-0 for the first time since 2004 and that was the year we went to the Super Bowl. So it is exciting to watch the team, that’s for sure. In every game so far, we have emerged successful after finding ourselves in a deficit. Winning is fun, but the NFL and the violence it produces and sells needs to be discerned before we just wantonly consume it. Exhibit A is Ray Rice and his abuse of his wife Janay. This had the NFL in an uproar the first week of the regular season. Exhibit B is Adrian Peterson and his abuse of his four-year-old (whipping him with a switch after stuffing his mouth with the leaves he took from that very tree branch).
As the nation worships the violence each week and fails to connect Peterson and Rich with that idolatry, it exposes how indoctrinated it has become. I think the aliens would be able to link those two events quite simply—I actually think a child just learning how to infer might be able to, too. George Carlin, a prophet of sorts, and his analysis of both the national pastime (which is baseball) and football is among the most apt critiques. A few quotations from the brilliant bit:
“Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness… In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.”
The sport is violent physically and metaphorically and sometimes that violence is explicitly occurring off the field (more incidents than just Peterson and Rice too). Sports journalists, owners, and even disingenuous commissioners (I won’t say that too loud, or Goodell might have ESPN suspend me) all decry that kind of violence. But what happens when the accepted on-field violence meets the deplorable off-field violence?
This occurred last Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles earned their third victory. The already battered Nick Foles, our quarterback, threw a pass that everyone thought was intercepted. Possession changed, and Foles lightly jogged toward the player running with the ball. An opposing player forcefully hit him and his body was thrown like a rag doll. It seemed like every Philadelphian in the world called a “cheap shot.”
This enraged at least one Eagle, Jason Peters, who proceeded to attack Chris Baker (who has a history of violence, apparently). Jason Peters punched him and the violence escalated. Both players were stopped and penalties were distributed all around. Baker got hit with an “unnecessary roughness” penalty (ironic, I know). The NFL rule book makes it seem like his hit of our fragile QB was illegal, but later ruled it was legal. There is no doubt that the sport is too violent. But after watching and listening to an excess of discussion on Baker’s hit—I just decided it wasn’t that much worse than other things that happen in the game. It’s football. Football might be evil, but I’m not sure Baker’s hit was more evil. If the laundry was switched, Philadelphia fans, who have quite the national reputation for being passionate, would laud the violence against the opposition. Talk show hosts couldn’t criticize Baker because they didn’t want to be hypocrites.
Why not just change your attitude when your player is unnecessarily violent, as opposed to rigidly defending the violence so you can feel justifies in celebrating it later when your team is the perpetrator? I mean, though they may have thought Baker’s hit was normal, Peters’ punch was totally inappropriate. But all week, people have been talking about why the brawl he started was righteous and why it was team building. Jason Peters said he’d do it again. The Eagles re-quoted their head coach saying, “We’re from Philadelphia and we fight” in a promotional video. When asked about whether or not Peters’ hit was moral, Chip Kelly ignored the question, even!
We don’t just need aliens to tell us the truth, we need a new paradigm for how to see the world. Violence isn’t team building—it’s destructive. Violence might be the solution for people that have run out of good ideas. Jason Peters really had no other way to rally his team after a cheap shot? On the other hand, Baker didn’t either. It reminds me of Ray Rice not having another way to solve his conflict. Or Adrian Peterson not having another way to discipline his four-year-old!
It is funny that in times like this the most apt critics of the culture are the comics like Carlin and Seinfeld. But I long for Christians to be engaged with the culture enough to improve it. I guess that’s one reason to watch football—to know what is happening and be able to respond to it appropriately. I think Jesus would be a football fan, and I really think Paul would be.
We need to speak into the culture and speak the truth of the Prince of Peace into it. The worship of the military generals and their teams as they brutalize each other, as they suffer career-ending and life-changing concussions and other injuries, needs to end and we need to offer an alternative. The aggression on the football field is translating into the lives of people and hurting them. And along with aliens and comedians, Christians need to contribute positively to the discussion. Thanks for reading my contribution.