Among those who call the shots—if I may use that term—in American society, it is accepted wisdom that symbols, imagery and language control people rather than the other way around. And it follows that people who manipulate those things, view themselves as demigods.
These secular saints, in turn, consider it their bounden duty to use their awesome powers for the good of mankind, or personkind as the case may be.
Our beneficent masters are most densely congregated in Hollywood, education and the media. From these lofty perches they try to make a better world for all of us.
But the molding of the American mind is no longer confined to James Cameron movies, MSNBC newscasts and ex cathedra pronouncements from Harvard. Increasingly, the world of sports is subject to dainty elite ministrations.
The mascot "Bullets" was deemed too provocative for gang-ridden Washington, D. C. so the city's NBA team was duly renamed the Wizards. We breathlessly await studies proving this exercise in sensitivity reduced violent crime in the nation's capital.
Now normal people understand that you can never cleanse the world of violence. Least of all can you do it by renaming rivalry games and mascots. To think otherwise is fatuous.
But there is a more serious move afoot that could fundamentally alter the game of football as we know it, and ultimately cause its extinction. I speak of lawsuits against the NFL alleging culpability for concussions suffered by professional football players.
The most recent and prominent of these torts has been filed by ex-pros Jamal Lewis, Dorsey Levens, Fulton Kuykendall and Erik Stewart. This quartet is seeking unspecified damages from the NFL.
If this suit, or any like it in the future, is successful, the floodgates will be opened for former players to enrich themselves and possibly bankrupt the league in the process.
Many NFL observers have commented on the steady criminalization of violence in professional football beginning with the ban on head-slaps in 1977 and continuing to outlawry of hitting so-called "defenseless" players. The general consensus was that the league's power-brokers were getting too squeamish for the brutality of the game. As we now see, however, the NFL was actually attempting to preempt the sorts of lawsuits initiated by Lewis, Levens, Kuykendall and Stewart. This was legal self-defense rather than rampant pansification.
But whether or not the aforementioned lawsuit succeeds, we can expect to see evermore rules and regs against tough football. The frightening specter of the bankrupting lawsuit now undeniably hangs over the league's head. Expect the NFL to do everything in its power to cover its keister accordingly.
We should also expect to see this fear and its consequences trickle down to college and high school football. For if players who made millions of dollars playing can sue their ex-employer, those who received little compensation from their football overseers should, a fortiori, be able to sue. Consequently, the NCAA and UIL may soon adopt safety rules that make the NFL's look positively liberal. The ridiculous ban against the horse-collar tackle is one such rule already in effect.
If the above scenario takes place, the game of football will lose much of its popularity because it will have lost much of what makes it compelling—the violence.
Nobody cares to see a tightrope walker do his thing eight inches above the ground; nobody wants to see a fellow take an elevator to the top of Mt. Everest, and nobody wants to see boxers Duke it out down pillows wrapped around their fists. But that is what football may be coming to.
Let the sport of open-wheel auto racing serve as a cautionary tale. In the 1950s and 1960s the Indy 500 was a sporting event comparable to the Super Bowl today. Even though the event was not televised live in those days, the entire nation raptly tuned to Memorial Day events in Indianapolis. Heck, A-list Hollywood movie starlets gave greasy drivers smooches in Victory Circle. Can you imagine Kate Winslet planting one on James Harrison at midfield?
Racing at that time was deadly dangerous. Of the 33 men who started the 1955 Indy 500, 17 ultimately died in racing accidents. Over time, however, safety advances, spurred in part by spiraling insurance premiums, emasculated the sport. The cars became easy to drive and fatalities extremely scarce.
In tandem with this development, the popularity of open-wheel racing declined dramatically. Nowadays the Indy 500 gets television ratings along the lines of Punky Brewster reruns. And it's not a coincidence.
The game of football will either figure out how to defeat tortious lawsuits without denaturing the game, or it will suffer the same fate as open-wheel racing in America. And that would be sad indeed.