Football Fever is a disease

SUBHEAD:  TGI knows the priorities on this island - football and gambling over pesticides, traffic, self-reliance and food sustainability.

By Juan Wilson on 9 September 2015 for the Island Breath -

Image above: Phil Heath, the top rated finalist in the 2014 Mr. Olympia Contest. From (

Today I read the article under the top "news" storyon the Forum page of Kauai's Garden Island News.

Its title was "Here's Hoping Kauai catches Football Fever". The article encouraged readers to enter a contest that had a weekly payoff of  $250 for the who football season. You make the best "picks" you can and the winner is randomly selected from the best "picks".

The paper boasts; "A grand prize winner at season’s end determined by a random drawing from all entries will win a trip for two to Las Vegas and $500 cash."

I guess the "randomness" of selecting the winner makes this technically not gambling, but that's a fine point. It's not much different than the little yellow cards that used to be passed around the office on Friday afternoons with college and pro football team winners selected. "Het what's the spread?"

Somehow Hawaii has a fixation on Vegas and gambling. It seems as if that's about top choice destination for people here on Kauai. I know it's Elton John, Cirque du Soleil, and 2015 Mr. Olympia Contest scheduled for the Los Vegas Convention Center.

To me it's pathetic that this self promoting puff piece was the only "opinion" published on the TGI Forum. I guess the TGI knows the priorities on this island - football and gambling over pesticides, traffic, self-reliance and food sustainability.

Below is the TGI promo for more readers and another opinion by an ex Football Fever Fan.

Here's Hoping Kauai catches Football Fever

By Editorial Staff on 9 September 2015 for the Garden Island


There are some offers that are too good to be true.

There are some that are as good as presented.

The Garden Island’s Football Fever contest falls into the latter. Why, you ask, is that? We’ll explain and we’ll start with what is sure to get your attention: $250. That’s right. The winner, each week over the 20 weeks of the contest, wins $250 and who can’t use some extra cash.

The week one winner was Rory Rayno of Lihue. And yes, he won $250 cash. Congratulations to Rory.

To claim that money, all you have to do is fill out the ballot that’s in the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday TGI, match or beat the top-scoring panelist, and have your name randomly drawn from the qualified entries. On the panel are Richard Stein, operations manager of The Garden Island, Nick Celario, TGI sports writer, and our friends Ron Wiley and Marc Valentin of Kong Radio.

Before we go further, we should explain how Football Fever works. There are 15 college and pro games selected for the ballot each week. The Las Vegas point spread is also factored in, which makes it a bit more difficult. Still, all you have to do is pick which team you believe will win.

Some of this weekend’s intriguing matchups include Notre Dame at Virginia; Oregon at Michigan St.; Green Bay at Chicago; and Seattle at St. Louis.

A grand prize winner at season’s end determined by a random drawing from all entries will win a trip for two to Las Vegas and $500 cash. Not a bad deal at all.

The odds aren’t bad, either. About 200 folks usually in the weekly ballot, which makes us think this is either one of the best-kept secrets on the island, or people just don’t believe this offer is the real deal. It is.

All you have to do is turn in the completed form by 4 p.m. Thursday at any PS&D Tires/Napa Auto parts in Kapaa, Lihue, Hanapepe and Kalaheo, or 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday at TGI’s office, 3-3137 Kuhio Highway. Each Friday, we publish updates on how the panelists are doing.

We’re betting there aren’t better odds out there to win $250 each week. And if you chose to participate in Football Fever, your odds of winning that grand prize trip to Vegas and some spending money aren’t bad, either.

We’d love to see more folks join us because this deal is as good as it sounds.

Football Fever. Catch it.

Church of the Gridiron

David Cook talks with Steve Almond in September 2015 in the Sun


American football officially began in the years following the Civil War. A crude blend of soccer and rugby, the sport was brutal, with a fast-and-loose set of rules that gave it the appearance of a gang fight. In 1905, 19 players died, and another 137 were injured; the Chicago Tribune called the season a “death harvest.” President Theodore Roosevelt finally intervened, calling a group of influential sportsmen to the White House in order to help transform the game.

Reforms followed, such as legalizing the forward pass and penalizing unsportsmanlike conduct. The sport became safer, and by midcentury it had entered a golden age of players like quarterback Johnny Unitas and fullback Jim Brown. Games were televised, and in the late sixties the Super Bowl was created.

Today pro football is the unparalleled giant of the sports world. In 2014 forty-five of the fifty top-rated television broadcasts were football games. More Americans follow football than follow Major League Baseball, NBA basketball, and NASCAR racing combined. The National Football League (NFL) earns nearly $10 billion a year in profits, with an expressed goal of $25 billion. During the season, Americans spend more time watching football than going to religious services. Pro football has become the spectacle that unites people in this country more than any other.
“But it has a dark side,” says author Steve Almond.

For four decades Almond was a consummate fan, soaking up all that football offered. Then, in 2014, he did the unthinkable: he stopped. No more games. No more listening to sports talk radio. He would become football fandom’s conscientious objector.

In Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto he writes, “Our allegiance to football legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia.” A New York Times bestseller, the book is an eloquent examination of America’s most popular sport — in particular, the aspects many fans tend to ignore: its astounding injury rate, its exaggeration of gender stereotypes, and its inherent violence.

Born in 1966, Almond grew up an Oakland Raiders fan in Palo Alto, California. Like many Americans, he started watching football with his father. From an early age, however, he had misgivings about the sport, especially after seeing players suffer paralyzing injuries. Two years ago Almond’s mother experienced a terrifying delirium that landed her in an intensive-care unit. Her suffering helped him realize that he couldn’t in good conscience cheer for a sport that caused its players to endure similar symptoms.

Almond lives, writes, and teaches near Boston. In addition to novels and short stories, he has written memoirs about his love for candy (Candyfreak) and rock music (Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life). He and I spoke this past winter, at the height of football season, and Almond argued convincingly that to understand this country, we have to understand its favorite game.

Cook: What role does football play in the U.S. today?

Almond: It’s the largest shared narrative in the country: emotionally, psychologically, and maybe even financially. My sense is that more Americans — male and female, gay and straight, of all races and classes — are deeply invested in football than in any other single activity. For forty years I was a member in good standing of the Church of the Gridiron. The game can be brutal, but it’s also complex and satisfying to watch.

When Ernest Hemingway wanted to understand Spanish culture, he went to see the bullfights. Football is our bullfight: an expression of our cultural values and a profound statement about our national consciousness. It’s important to understand what it does for us and to us, what its pleasures are and its moral costs. But football means so much to so many Americans that we’re terrified of interrogating it.

Cook: What part of football does our conscience want to ignore?

Almond: Every time I sat down to watch a game, I was basically agreeing that this form of entertainment was worth whatever injuries the players might suffer. That’s true of any sport, but in the case of football, which is much more violent than most other sports, the price is higher, particularly when it comes to brain damage. In the fall of 2014 the NFL admitted that 30 percent of its players — nearly one in three — will suffer “long-term cognitive ailments,” and that they are likely to develop such problems at “notably younger ages” than the average American.

That means that if there are 1,700 active NFL players at any given time, about 500 will end up with permanent cognitive disabilities. And when we watch football, we’re not only OK with that: we pay good money to watch it happen.

That’s the first moral issue a football fan has to ignore, and the folks who serve up football make it easy to do. The helmets and uniforms and pads the players wear not only protect but dehumanize them. They look almost like robots. Most of the time we don’t see their faces. We never have to look at the dazed eyes of a player who’s just suffered a brain injury.

For the most part any player who’s seriously injured gets swept out of sight, and we don’t see him until he’s ready to play again. In this sense football is just a reflection of a broader American mentality: when something becomes too upsetting, it’s shuttled out of view, whether it’s the body of a soldier returning from Iraq or a mentally ill homeless person who finds his or her way into a wealthy neighborhood. They are all made to disappear.

It’s the same with any product we consume. We want our fancy cellphones, but we don’t want to think about the mistreated workers who make them. We want our bacon, but we don’t want to visit the slaughterhouse. We love our football, but we don’t want to see a former player in the late stages of dementia.

The people who market football have been pretty ingenious in portraying the game as wholesome and valorous. Obviously there are aspects of football that are laudable: the grace and athleticism on display, the teamwork, the viewers’ sense of connection with family and friends. The problem is that you’re also watching human beings get physically ruined. The announcer never says, “Hey, I hope you enjoyed that reception.

The receiver just sustained a grade-two concussion. If he enters the field of play again, he may be at risk for second-impact syndrome, which would cause his brain to swell until he dies. Enjoy your chicken wings!”

You might call what’s happening “assisted suppression.” With the help of those marketing geniuses, we’re suppressing our empathy and accepting violence and injury as the natural order of things. This is why, even with the clear evidence this past fall that the sport causes brain damage, the NFL didn’t come to a screeching halt. Fans felt bad for a few minutes, but the television ratings were the second highest ever.

Cook: How much is known about the relationship between football and neurodegenerative diseases?

Almond: It’s obvious that football players are at a greater risk for such diseases than the general population, but exactly how much greater isn’t known. One study, by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, examined almost 3,500 men who had played in the NFL from 1959 through 1988 and found that their risk for Alzheimer’s and ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, was four times greater than average. And you have to remember that football in 2015 is substantially different from football in 1988 or 1959.

The players now are bigger, faster, and stronger — and this is true at every level, from high school to college to the pros. There’s an expectation that players will become bigger, faster, and stronger each year, which means collisions of greater force, and nobody knows what the long-term results of that will be for today’s players.

Cook: Some former players with cognitive ailments have taken their own lives. Is there a link between concussions and suicide?

Almond: Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, who were huge NFL stars in their primes, both committed suicide after retirement. Duerson left a note asking that his brain be examined for trauma, and he was found to have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the symptoms of which include mood swings, violent behaviors, depression, and suicidal ideation. Seau was also found to have had CTE. Think about how you would feel if your brain no longer worked right. In a sense, those players were driven to kill themselves by dementia.

The problem isn’t concussions so much as subconcussive events — the hits and tackles that don’t cause immediate injury but that have a cumulative effect over time. Medical researchers at Boston University, the University of North Carolina, and elsewhere are working to figure out exactly what those effects are. It’s hard to do, though, because former players are reluctant to disclose the extent of their injuries, especially ones that affect their brains. These are guys who are used to being idolized.

They don’t want to be seen in a reduced state. And we don’t yet have the technology to determine the extent of brain injuries in living players. So most studies have to depend on autopsies. As of last year, those autopsies found that seventy-six out of seventy-nine former NFL players showed signs of CTE. But those are just the players whose families requested a brain exam after death. Nobody knows what the overall percentages are.

One thing is clear: the NFL and the National Collegiate Athletic Association [NCAA] want fans thinking as little as possible about brain damage. After all, you can’t sell football as an all-American family pastime if people are too aware of the harm it causes to players.

The NFL and NCAA are, of course, also working to make the game safer, but there are only so many rules that can be tweaked. In the end the primal spectacle of the contact — the hits — is a reason many fans love the game. Leagues can do only so much to reduce those hits before they start losing fans.

So, yes, the NFL and NCAA have instituted stiff penalties for helmet-to-helmet hits and even redesigned kickoffs to reduce high-speed collisions. But, again, all of this only helps limit concussions. The problem is that the permanent brain injuries arise in part because of those subconcussive hits, the ones players receive nearly every single play, and there’s no way to engineer those out. The tackle will always be part of the game.

Cook: What did you think of Chris Borland, the promising linebacker who retired earlier this year at the age of twenty-four because he believed the risks of playing football outweighed the rewards?

Almond: I think Borland had his consciousness raised. He talked to doctors, former players, researchers, and journalists, and he realized that he stood a good chance of getting brain damage. He made a rational decision that would be completely unsurprising in almost any other profession. But because he’s a football player, sportscasters and fans were astonished.

Cook: Many Americans say that football has taught them discipline, teamwork, and perseverance. Isn’t that a good thing?

Almond: There are great arguments to be made on behalf of organized sports, such as the way they test your physical limits and help you bond with teammates. All that is real. My argument would be: You don’t need to play a game in which people’s brains are at risk. You can get those same lessons from another sport — or from a great teacher or pastor. And it’s important to draw a distinction between the game, which is harder to judge, and the industry that has grown up around it, which is pretty much capitalism on steroids.

Saying football is a learning experience is just one of many arguments that people make in its defense. Any fan has a whole suitcase full of rationalizations for why he or she watches. I know, because I carried my own around for forty years.

For example, some people say that for “certain kids” — meaning poor kids, and usually kids of color — football is their only way to go to college. If that’s true, then we’ve got a problem, because it means we don’t give a damn about educating the poor unless they can knock down a middle linebacker. Then they deserve our attention because they entertain us, not because of the content of their character, mind, heart, and spirit.

I’m not trying to abolish football. I just want people to see the sport for what it is and ask themselves: Why do we need this beautifully savage game in our lives?

Cook: But football’s certainly not the only dangerous sport out there.

Almond: I’m not sure why the existence of other violent sports justifies our consumption of football. That feels like an absurd dodge. Regardless, football is by far the most dangerous of any major team sport, because frequent high-speed collisions between huge men are the norm. What other major sport ends almost every play with a tackle? How come there’s an ambulance on standby at high-school football games?

Hockey can be violent, but it’s not predicated on collisions. Those are incidental. Boxing is more violent than football, but it’s also more honest: fans are forced to see the gruesome results, to face the barbarism. This is why boxing has fallen out of favor, I think. What football has done is to mass-market sanitized and sanctioned violence. And there’s an entire ministry of propaganda — otherwise known as the sports media — whose goal is to keep fans from focusing on the violence and to downplay injuries by referring to a concussion, for instance, as “getting your bell rung.”

Cook: What do you say to those who argue that the players are compensated for the risk — that their pay grade at least matches the danger they are in?

Almond: I say they’re right. Pro players are well compensated. The most talented among them earn millions of dollars a season, and I can understand exactly why a young man who has spent his life dreaming of playing in the NFL would happily take the risk. My question is: Why do we, the fans, choose to consume the game, knowing that it causes permanent injury, including brain damage? After all, we are the ones who underwrite the football-industrial complex. We’re the reason the players get paid all that dough. And we’re the reason that many high-school and college kids regard football as a path to wealth and glory.

That’s another big lie. Only one out of every five hundred high-school seniors who play football will ever make the pros — and that’s according to the NFL Players Association. The vast majority of college players will never earn a dime playing the game, despite the profound risks they incur.

Most fans have no interest in pondering why they support such a violent pastime. They don’t want to feel complicit. And the sports media have a vested interest in protecting fans from feeling complicit, because they might stop watching. Instead the media vilify a few convenient scapegoats — out-of-control players, greedy owners — and we tell ourselves that they’re the problem, not us.

Cook: Is football, especially for males, a socially acceptable outlet for aggression?

Almond: Absolutely. Lots of cultures use athletic competition to sublimate aggression. Fandom is a relatively benign form of tribalism. We also use sports to celebrate physical strength and poise and teamwork and other virtues. But the question remains: What are the moral costs of a particular sport? The Mayans played a game in which members of the losing team were sometimes executed. By modern standards that’s barbaric, right? But we are OK with players getting maimed for the sake of entertainment. That’s a sign of a culture in serious trouble.

Football is a powerful refuge. When we watch, we get so absorbed that we forget our troubles. It’s existential relief. You are a part of some exalted event. I didn’t watch the 2014 Super Bowl, but 111 million people tuned in. We are desperate to find something that will connect us. Football is a quick and easy solution.

Yet, at a certain point, you have to step back and ask: Why is this the church I worship in? What is the nature of this religion we have created?

As a fan I did feel a connection to the people around me, especially if my team was winning, but I also felt lost inside. Watching football became a lonely experience, like feeding an addiction. It wasn’t a way for me to engage with my problems. It wasn’t enlarging my empathy or my moral imagination. It wasn’t satisfying a deeper spiritual need.

Having said that, I can’t say to other fans that the holy feeling they have when they walk into their team’s stadium isn’t real. It is. My beef is that those feelings — our devotion to athletic heroism, our sentimental loyalty to the teams we rooted for growing up, and that our dads rooted for — are being mercilessly exploited and turned into an engine of greed. Not only that, but we’re getting so sucked into the fan mind-set that we start to see everything as a competition. Think about it.

We have television programs that have turned singing, dancing, cooking, traveling, and even falling in love into competitions. It’s as if the only way a person in our culture can get what he or she wants is for another person to “lose.” This mind-set is ultimately martial. It’s what novelist Cormac McCarthy is referring to when he writes, in Blood Meridian, about warfare as a natural extension of sports. What ultimately matters is whether your team — and therefore you — wins. A lot of people these days feel that way about politics and religion: it’s all about vanquishing the socialist or the heathen or whatever. Football may not be the driving force behind this cultural mind-set, but it’s the purest expression of it.

Cook: If football culture is so morally and spiritually hollow, why doesn’t it collapse?

Almond: Maybe it will. Maybe our culture will collapse, too, like ancient Rome. As the empire declined, gladiatorial combat in the Coliseum allowed citizens to dull their empathy and enjoy the bloodshed. Maybe football is a symptom of our own imperial decline.

What amazes me about sport in general, and football in particular, is how objectively trivial it is. Yet it’s treated like this crucial undertaking. Every year the media devote more and more channels and pundits and column inches to the business of football. But really it’s just a game. Meanwhile we have all these actual threats to our existence that we ignore. Football is one of the ways we distract ourselves from what we should be doing to ensure the planet remains habitable for our species. We have become skilled at choosing the immediate pleasure and ignoring the long-term costs.

Maybe every empire falls in part because it’s unable to inspire a sense of civic responsibility in its citizens. Obviously Rome fell for complicated reasons, but part of what kept the population from recognizing corruption in its leadership was the distraction of violent spectacles. The Roman poet Juvenal talked about politicians giving the people “bread and circuses” as a way to generate approval through diversion rather than through public service or sound policy. The citizens focused on their own immediate gratification and ignored their civic duty, as well as the broader threats to their society. Does that sound familiar?

If the U.S. — and the planet — is to survive, we’re going to have to make do with less. We’re going to have to stop worshiping at the altar of convenience. California really is running out of water. Our climate really is changing. We really are seeing massive wildlife migrations and plagues. And football really is just a circus that’s helping distract us from these threats.

Football is a metaphor for the broader American experience: Because we can’t see the players’ wounds, we delude ourselves into thinking that the game isn’t dangerous. Because global warming hasn’t yet flooded us out of our homes, we delude ourselves into thinking that it won’t harm us.

Cook: Baseball used to be the “national pastime.” What happened?

Almond: Late-model capitalism. We went from an agricultural society to an industrial one. Baseball is a pastoral game. Football is more in tune with the modern American experience. The typical American worker today is trapped in an office with elaborate rules of conduct and a lot of technical jargon. You’ve got “units” of employees working on group projects and multiple levels of management. Jobs are increasingly specialized. That’s how football operates, too. There’s a giant playbook with dozens of contingencies for any given play, strategy sessions, tons of jargon, a hierarchy of coaches — all things office drones recognize from their jobs.

But here’s what makes football so alluring: When a play works, it’s not just that you got the third-quarter earnings report done. It’s Barry Sanders making a magnificent spin move to avoid a tackle and carrying the ball sixty yards to glory. That experience is ecstatic and unlike anything in our everyday lives.

Football is both a reflection of complex, brutal, and oppressive industrialization and, at the same time, a liberation from it; a return to the intuitive childhood pleasures of play.

Cook: You were a fan for most of your life. What was it like leaving football?

Almond: When people ask how I lost my faith in football, I always think of that saying from the Great Depression about how you lose a fortune: a little bit at a time, then all of a sudden.
The truth is, I had misgivings from the moment I saw Daryl Stingley, the great Patriots wide receiver, get paralyzed by Jack Tatum, who was my hero. Seeing that as an eleven-year-old, I knew that something was wrong. But football was a way to connect with my dad, and some part of me loved identifying with the Oakland Raiders, because I felt frightened and hopeless most of the time, and the Raiders seemed to be the opposite of that.

I’ve known for many years that the game was my way of coping with loneliness and boredom. To be honest, I was ashamed of it as an adult. I would sneak off alone to watch, hiding my enjoyment from the people closest to me. But I really started questioning my fandom a couple of years ago, when my mom became ill.

I got a call from my brother, who said that Mom had developed symptoms of dementia after a fall. I flew from Boston to California. She didn’t recognize me at first or know where she was. She sobbed because she was so confused. At that point the whole idea of a “cognitive ailment” stopped being an abstraction to me. All those stories I had ignored for years, about ex-players with dementia, suddenly became quite real.

Thankfully my mom recovered. The doctors thought her condition might have been triggered by a medication. But the experience made me realize that I needed to reexamine my relationship to football. I understood that once your brain is compromised, your self essentially begins to vanish. It’s heartbreaking to witness. And I realized that, by watching football, I was contributing to players losing brain function. It wasn’t something I could rationalize away anymore.

Cook: You talk about football as an addiction.

Almond: Just look at my behaviors: I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I hid the depth of my fandom. And now that I don’t watch anymore, I’m like a dry drunk in a liquor store. Football is everywhere: the gym, the dentist’s waiting room, on TV, in the newspaper. To make it through the fall in the U.S. and not see a single image of football, you would have to put on a blindfold.

Cook: How was Against Football received by other fans?

Almond: A few people suggested that I be turned over to the Islamic State for beheading, but most serious fans ignored the book, which I completely understand. There were some receptive reviews, though few of them engaged with the book’s broader critique.

The most provocative responses came from fans who talked about how football connected them to their families, allowed them to reach across divides, and made them feel alive. I can’t argue with any of that. But it’s also depressing to me that families and communities can’t bond over something more personal; that it has to be this brutal, corporatized game.

I did get a lot of thoughtful notes from fans who were growing ambivalent, and even a few who felt compelled to stop watching. But, again, my goal wasn’t to lead some kind of movement against football. It was to make readers think about everything the game entails, not just the entertaining parts.

Cook: How can we make fans think more about these issues?

Almond: If the NFL really wanted to give fans a taste of the game’s violence, it would put a suburban dad in uniform, line him up against six-foot-three, 262-pound Clay Matthews, and let him feel what it’s like to absorb a hit from someone that size: Feel that dizziness and disorientation? Feel that shooting pain and numbness in your arm? It’s called a “stinger,” and it lasts a couple of days. You play through it. Can you imagine what would happen if fans really understood how damaging the game is? Most players’ biggest fear is getting injured.

Cook: Is football culture damaging to women?

Almond: The whole pageant is medieval in terms of gender. Men are knights who go to battle. Women are sexual ornaments who bounce on the sideline. Those values aren’t just pre-suffrage; they’re pre-Enlightenment. I cannot put my eight-year-old daughter in front of a football game without her receiving the wrong message about her worth.

Cook: In your book you ask whether football provides white Americans “a continued sense of dominion over African American men.” How does football reflect our attitudes on race?

Almond: Most professional sports have a disproportionate number of players of color. That’s why, if you ask people to name a hundred famous African Americans, the list will be dominated by athletes.

Cook: Yet blacks are still underrepresented as coaches and quarterbacks.

Almond: You can add owners to that list. They’re pretty much all white and male. I think it’s because football reflects a legacy of racial inequality and reinforces racial stereotypes. White players are seen as more cerebral, African American players as more athletic. Sportscasters get in trouble if they say this out loud, but you hear it in their rhetoric. When a white player like Tom Brady makes a great play, he’s displayed “great football intelligence.” When an African American running back like Marshawn Lynch makes a great play, he’s gone into “beast mode.”

That language of “beast” and “stud” and “specimen” would have been right at home on the plantation. Think about the NFL Scouting Combine: a bunch of white coaches and owners judging young men — the majority of them African American — based on physical prowess, the same criteria used at slave auctions. It’s reinforcing grotesque stereo-types about African American masculinity.

Look at the Southeastern Conference in college football. These are schools located in the heart of what was once the Confederacy, a culture that brought Africans over to America and treated them as property and finally, reluctantly, freed them. Then came Reconstruction and Jim Crow and segregation. The South remains a place fraught with racial anxiety and misunderstanding.

So why is college football — a game played mostly by African Americans and watched mostly by whites — so hugely popular there? What is being played out? Is it a form of restitution? Some kind of strange worship and fetishization? Some special pleasure taken in seeing African American men perform dangerous feats for our amusement?

I’m not saying there’s no grace and beauty in the game. But we should ask ourselves: Why do so many white Americans get off on watching huge, mostly African American men stage a beautiful form of murder ballet?


No comments :

Post a Comment