By Tom Cushing
Bread and CircusesUploaded: Feb 3, 2016
Show of hands – who’s excited that the NFL has brought its mid-winter lucrefe$t to our fair region, replete with fireworks, a whole financial district (where else?) full of self-gratification, and oh yeah – a football game forty miles away?
I have heard league boosters rhapsodizing about this lavish carnival, calling it the American Answer to events like the Olympics and the World Cup. Do you agree?
Others say it’s a wonderful way to shine a bright light on the Bay Area, to showcase it for the rest of the globe, but again – not me. Bah humbug.
To me, despite all the scandals to which the Olympics and World Cup are prone, they do at least pursue a higher calling – to exalt youth and human capacity for excellence, and to unite the globe in friendly competition around a game that requires a concentrated and patient appreciation of strategy, and subtlety and flow.
The Super Bowl spectacle, by contrast, glorifies … what, besides money -- maybe land war? It is uniquely American in that sense, perhaps, where fame and merit have become increasingly estranged. But I find in it no particular reason to revel – what, our MBAs and spin flacks can beat anybody else’s in the whole round world? USA!
There’s obviously no denying the current success of the league in separating fans from their money, but I’ll wonder again about whether all this gaudy exterior is intended to distract the masses from a game that has begun to rot from within.
As players have grown unnaturally (read: pharmaceutically) faster and bulkier, the toll on their bodies, and much worse, their minds continues to mount. Players from by-gone eras with smaller competitors – Gifford, Webster, Seau, Duerson, Mackey, Gilchrest and now Stabler and Dorsett -- are routinely diagnosed with debilitating traumatic brain injuries (“CTE”) – many of them post-mortem and after they and loved ones suffer from debilitating dementia. Understandably, the victims are getting younger (27-year old safety Sash, recently diagnosed post-mortem), and budding stars have even begun opting out of the arena, at least after their bonuses vest.
Note that this toll does not include the physical – the now-routine cartings-off of wounded competitors in every game, while the player with the ruined body gamely gives a thumbs-up to polite applause before the carnage can resume.
The League has reacted like any other threatened enterprise – think Tobacco, or Big food, oil or pharma – they have tried to discredit, then minimize, then tokenize a ‘solution’ and finally sweep their fundamental problems away under a lavish display, all the while trying to wrap themselves in Flag and Family. Family? Comparisons to the Roman gladiatorial era are apt – are we not entertained?
Of course, if you ask most young men of any era whether they’d trade their later health for money now, that’s a deal they will forever make. This is especially true of athletes who grasp for the adulation and the untold riches of star status that few of them ever achieve. But it’s also true of coal miners with few other options and a high probability of black lung, if they make it that long.
Some will call that freedom-of-choice, but is it really anything other than a demonstrably bad trade that will ensure a steady stream of future fodder – of bodies on the barbed wire? If these young men Really Knew the odds and could experience the outcomes, would they still roll the loaded dice? I wonder.
Quite apart from all that unhappiness, must we have it here in the Bay Area? Is it worth the hassles, the ridiculous demands to remove ‘unsightly’ trolley cables for a week, or the round-up and corralling of homeless folks, out-of-sight of the tender Elites?
I am uncertain of the actual economic balances and flows that this cavalcade-of-excess provokes, but I’m reminded of the ego-fest of the recent America’s Cup by the Bay. It clearly cost the region money, and not just inconvenience – to the point where the yachtsmen were invited to sail it on over the horizon next time. Somebody will be claimed to have made money here, but the real questions are who, and how much more than they’d have made anyway in this destination City and region?
I can answer the first inquiry with certainty – not me, or anyone I know for that matter. So I can’t balance my own evident inconvenience with anything tangible, or spendable.
And that begs the second question – are we proud to showcase ourselves to the world? Maybe if this were Indianapolis, or Minneapolis, we’d be thrilled. But this is already an uber-famous city. Tourists are part of the landscape, which is fine – does this thing add much, this week or over the foreseeable future?
Even more fundamentally, if it did, would we want that? One of the most attractive things about this area, after all, is its very casualness: if you see Joe Montana supping in a pub, he gets to enjoy his meal without having to be “Joe Montana ™”.
In that spirit, I’m with the guerillas who have defaced promotional Superbowl 50 ‘sculptures’ placed strategically around The City. Somebody moved the spacing on one to create a cryptic ‘Superb Owl’ message, but an award should go to the wag who transformed the letters into a complaint: “Up R Bowel.” No confusion there -- That’s MY SF.
Okay, so will I actually watch The Big Game? Probably, although it’s undoubtedly a great time to do almost anything else. But as a former player who left three bones and a dislocation on the field, and still loved the game – I WILL feel dirty about it. Bread and circuses only go so far. The League should worry about that – they need to address, and not disguise their problems.
Just kindly do it elsewhere, okay?