It’s baseball season and Stanley Cup playoffs time, so perhaps this is a good time to talk about football.  Similar to how those who are protecting complete gun freedom with zero controls never want to talk about gun sense after a mass shooting, I’m assuming football fans don’t really want to discuss football sanity during the season – certainly not during the SuperBowl. So, now seems like the time – off season.

  • The Eagles have finally won the SuperBowl.
  • The draft is complete.
  • The next season hasn’t started.

Oh, I forgot, football, the national anthem and the players taking to one knee is in the news. Ok, let’s not talk about patriotism, but just football.

This past month, I’ve listened to and watched two football pieces that should be a part of the ongoing football conversation because they are not anomalies, but morality plays worth their salt against any Greek tragedies.

The Harm in Tunnel Vision

The first is the movie Paterno. If you have access to HBO, you can watch it for free starring Al Pacino. The movie, created for television, tells the story of a young female reporter at the Patriot- New, Sara Ganim, who has the objectivity and audacity to explore what might the dark side of football at Penn State.

Her reporting was courageous because she took on a hallowed local figure, a perceived hero, and a sport that is considered almost as American as apple pie. One criticism from Sports Illustrated takes a line from the movie and asks: “A crime against children happened. Why are we talking about Joe Paterno?”

The answer is simple: Because Paterno draws you into the story – the story about how our adoration of football, machismo and winning at all costs has made us willing to be blind to ethical challenges. It’s a true parable of our times.

The second criticism, from a Philly Inquirer writer, questions our ability to discern truth when the news is too fresh.  TV critic Ellen Gray writes: I found the film’s portrait of a man whose extraordinary focus could play like tunnel vision, and whose background may have left him dangerously naive, to be plausible.”

And there’s lesson one about football:  If we only few the game through the tunnel vision lens of making it a hallowed tradition, we will not be open to needed changes to let the game evolve in concert with more civilized norms.

When Proof is in the Pudding

In episode 2 of season 3 of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, the famed writer explores how much proof is proof enough that something might be true. Entitled The Burden of Proof,  the podcast starts by exploring data and theories on black lung disease of coal miners, but cleverly transitions to football. It’s noteworthy that most of the podcast is from a guest lecture Gladwell made at the University of Pennsylvania about U of P’s own football program.

Gladwell’s discussion is not on child molestation, but the ongoing controversy regarding head injuries and concussions in football. The University of Pennsylvania is an Ivy League school, playing football against seven other Ivy League schools with the most famous names of American education—Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, Columbia and Cornell.

Although a handful of Ivy League players have gone on to the NFL, the Ivies are far more known for their talent in producing neuroscientists, lawyers, politicians and business and civic leaders.  Yet, after Gladwell’s brave talk confronting the University of Pennsylvania on its own program, one dean immediately said, “We’re not getting rid of football.”  Really? Why not?

Real Clear Sports writes; When NFL scouts spread out across the country scouring for talent, they don’t exactly descend on Ivy League campuses. After all, the eight Northeastern private universities aren’t known for their sporting prowess, especially considering that they don’t even offer athletic scholarships.”

If any schools are endowment rich and not in need of football money, are they not the Ivies? Each of the eight in the football Ivy League are among those schools reported to have more than $1 billion in endowments as of 2017.  Some are in the two and three billion dollar range. Surely, if any schools can give up football in deference to brain matter, shouldn’t it be the Ivies?

Patriotism and Parenting Responsibility

So now we’re embroiled in yet a new controversy regarding players standing during the National Anthem before a football game.  One argument goes that the anthem is about respect for our military, and certainly football is a macho game of battling teams. So let’s talk patriotism from perhaps a maternal point of view. A mother might ask:

  • What type of country sends its precious sons into an unnecessary battle? Why should any mother sacrifice a son to an immoral or unvetted war?
  • Similarly, what type of culture send its precious sons into a field of battle without proper armor?
  • Finally, why would that culture also send its best and brightest on to a field to put their brains and future at risk for a game?

I, for one, am not so concerned with any player taking a knee before, during, or after any game. I’m more concerned about their heads, and their mothers’ hearts. Much has gone into getting these young men past the crazy teen years, through school and to this point in their lives. They have learned much from playing on a team,  but are still young and should be protected, We are long past the Roman Coliseum games where we take glee in blood sport, or are we?  That’s the real patriotic questions we should each continue to ask ourselves starting, but certainly not ending with football.


Potential Little Hinge Action Steps:

  1. Rent the Will Smith movie Concussion. It doesn’t have the legacy charge of Paterno, and depicts the real life story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who as a forensic scientist, started to unravel the hidden in plain sight story of football head injuries. As an aside, it also continues the discussion on the contribution immigrants continue to make to our culture and society.
  2. Check Local Listings.  Find out your local elementary and secondary school practices regarding tackle football.  If the program is not where you, as a responsible parent, think it should be, make your voice heard in Board of Education meetings and Letters to local editors.
  3. Make Your Fan Support Count.  Women make up almost half of all NFL fans and yet the league wants more.  Football is  a game of ratings and if 45% of fans stopped watching or attending on any one day, the league would listen.  If you’re a female fan, write your team’s owners about your concerns to protect current and future gernerations of players — or switch your fandom to a different sport.
  4. Change the Conversation.  If you’re in a discussion on patriotism and football, use the conversation to discuss our patriotic duty to support the lifelong potential of our young men on the field over any short-term symbolism. Note your commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the Preamble of the Constitution over any discussion of First Amendment or no amendment discussions on patriotic stands.