Monday night, when the Dallas Cowboys came out to kneel theatrically on the field, before (not during) the national anthem, I knew it was time.
On Sunday, the news feeds updated me as team after team made a spectacle of itself. I’d had to turn off the very first game during the anthem. I was hoping to see Dallas, my team since I could first understand a football game, make good on what we’d been told days ago: that owner Jerry Jones told them he wouldn’t have the kneeling.
But Jones was out there with them, kneeling in “solidarity” with the other teams. Sure, it wasn’t during the national anthem. But that’s a technicality, and a wienerly one at that.
It’s defensive triangulation against being in the wrong, magnifying the spirit of criticism and complaint, instead of standing for something that’s right. It’s a technical but spiritless form of “righteousness,” one that every human being sees for the sham it is by the time he’s potty-trained.
And I’ve just had it with that stuff. The gymnastics of it are quite perfect. The opposite of taking a stand is taking a knee – taking a knee, that is, as the NFL players have been doing it. The whole difference between a man and a child is right there.
True lifelong fans of NFL football have hoped, I think, that it wouldn’t have to come to this. We love our teams. And not just our teams – we love the lore, the history, the stories of the players, the strategy, the design and orchestration, the coaching, the greatest matches and the incredible plays. We love the camaraderie of fandom. We love the game.
But it turns out the “culture” really is as infected with this sort of anti-character as it has seemed for a number of years now to be.
When I say “culture,” I don’t mean all of the American people. I mean the kabuki dances of our cultural conventions, played out in group events of various kinds, whether it’s football games, news-channel talk shows, school classrooms, awards for the arts, TV sitcoms, political speeches – whatever. I mean what our culture “looks” like, what our eyes expect to see, through the lens of mass communication and endless impersonal gatherings.
Unfortunately, NFL football has been as infected as anything else. I heard some of Rush Limbaugh today, and he spoke of being profoundly sad that this has to be an ending for pro football. That’s how I feel too: just sad. The quality of an “ending” can’t be denied. This is it. I am not at home with pro football anymore. It has lost me.
But I have to say, I’m not sad that Trump basically provoked this moment with his comments on Friday night. The divisions were there before Trump ever said anything. We’ve been headed for this moment since last year; the only question was how long the pretense would keep working that we weren’t.
It’s better, however painful, to have affirmative movement than to live with a collapsing stasis that no one acknowledges. Trump didn’t make this situation a childish sham. He just exposed it as one.
It’s sad that it was there to be exposed, and that nothing seems poised to rescue it from its terminal nonsense. It would have been a shot in the arm to see some owners stand up and show some gumption.
But the conditions of this world have already changed too much for sadness to be the overriding concern. The roller coaster has engaged, and truth is more important now. I can live without pro football (or – and this seems to be coming next – pro basketball, or major league baseball). But I can’t live without the truth.
We’re in interesting times. Our choices are big and life-changing on a scale none of us grew up expecting. In April of 2016, in a post about France deploying troops into the streets under the growing terror threat, I surveyed the situation and concluded the following:
Yet, writing on Friday about Operation Sentinelle, the military surge into the urban streets of France, the UK Guardian observes that there’s no plan aiming to end this period of civilizational deconstruction by default. Emphasis added:
[Bénédicte Chéron, a Sorbonne historian] said it would be politically difficult now for politicians to move to end the operation and “take the khaki off the street” when the terrorist threat is still there. Many believe France will have troops on home turf for a very long time.
It’s a curious blindness that doesn’t see the truth: at the end of that “very long time,” what is left will not be France.
Can the NFL correct its course right now, and avoid what looks inevitable? It seems doubtful. Watching in September 2017, I have a similar sense of the moving finger having writ, and moving on.
With each passing day, however, I’m better prepared for that. I perceive that others are too. We’re becoming adept at sorting out what we’re seeing, and setting aside the old mental ruts. We’ve already reckoned with the reality that there are things – even some big things – that won’t last in the form we know today.
The NFL seems to be one of them. Football is a tremendous sport; I don’t think it will die out. In fact, as with so many things, the break we are experiencing with the past will open the way for untold opportunities in the future. What we do with them will be up to us.
But on the other side of wherever we’re going, there may be football, and there may be pro football – but what is left, or, more probably, what is rebuilt, will not be the NFL as we have known it.
Goodbye, old friend.