If NFL owners and players wanted to dismiss the racially charged hazing of Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin as Fun With Rookies, they better be prepared for the media nerds who want to destroy the popularity of football so it sinks to the cultural level of boxing.
On Wednesday’s Morning Edition, NPR set loose its sports commentator Frank Deford to tell parents not to let their boys (or girls) play football, because it can “damage your soul as well as your brain”:
When the scab was peeled back off the sad episode, what was revealed was a savage culture where intimidation was common, where bullying was the accepted order of the day, and where you almost had to believe that some active players had to already be brain-damaged to so blithely put up with such inhumanity.
And the only defense applied was: Well, boys will be boys, even when they're grown men - and hey, locker rooms are different. It doesn't work, thank you.
All sorts of selective associations - clubs, societies, fraternities and sororities - exist with their own traditional private standards and idiosyncrasies. That's the nature of the beast. But just being different doesn't excuse institutional malevolence.
Football has always boasted to young boys that: It will make a man out of you. You never hear that from our other most popular team sports, baseball and basketball. Their appeal is that it's enough that you can enjoy participating in group activity, perhaps excel at it, but really no differently than playing in a school orchestra or the cast of a play. But what we're seeing now in football is a definition of manliness that is uber-macho. To be that kind of a man, you must be mean and insensitive.
So here is the long-term conclusion. The number of kids playing football is plummeting, down 13 percent in just the last two years, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. And an HBO "Real Sports"/Marist College poll, shows that the danger of football concussions would make a third of Americans less likely to let their boys play.
But now the view that has emerged from the Dolphins locker room goes beyond that and suggests that modern football is so violent, even thuggish, that it can damage your soul as well as your brain. How many more parents will keep their sons out of the football locker room, under the assumption that there are better ways to learn to be manly?