New York Times: NFL's Return Keeps U.S. in 'Fog of Denial' Over Virus, Racism

September 15th, 2020 9:51 AM

Did you enjoy forgetting about 2020 for a while while watching the NFL on Sunday (if you look overlook the social justice symbolism)? How dare you, says New York Times sports essayist Kurt Streeter. His first “Sports of the Times” column suggests we can expect regular doses of guilt-ridden consciousness-raising from a writer who would rather talk about politics. 

His fear-mongering about the return of the National Football League, “Loving and Loathing The Return of Football," made the front of Monday’s Sports section.

Streeter’s Times bio comes with red flags: He has “a particular interest in stories related to race, gender and social justice. Prior to coming to The Times in 2017, he was a senior writer for ESPN.”

So you can predict where he’ll be coming from. But its still annoying to read a sportswriter who is clearly itching to write about something besides sports.

The return of a lost love comes with risk. The N.F.L. is back. Aside from a doubleheader on Monday night, its first fraught and long-awaited week is in the books. But did the league’s sudden, large-scale embrace of Black Lives Matter have the gloss of a put-on? Maybe the prerecorded crowd noise sounded flat and fake.

When fans were allowed in the stands, 16,000 went to Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night to cheer Mahomes and the Chiefs. Were they in a fog of denial?

The return of professional football to a nation living on a raw and perilous edge, still struggling to confront a lethal virus and trying to heal its deep racial wounds, offered fans a tense and unlikely paradox. I loved watching the games, but I loathed it, too.


Hold tight. We could be one big outbreak of Covid-19 away from a calamity and deep regret.

Streeter found novel angles from which to argue that the return of pro football, which provides welcome distraction and keeps revenues in related fields rolling, is bad. 

Is the return of our most popular sport sending a false alert that we have almost conquered the virus?

He lectured his readers as if they were Covid deniers, before clumsily pivoting to racism.

Will the deep desire for normalcy, heralded by the return of the N.F.L., add to our lack of focus, our fog of denial -- and the difficulty we are having in our efforts to tame not only the virus, but racism?

On the field before the Chiefs played the Houston Texans in the season opener, players and coaches, Black and white, linked arms in a display of unity against injustice. The derisive boos they heard from the fans were a reminder that some want not only a return to normal, but also a return to a world that bucks against the societal shifts of 2020.

Then came a mini-history lecture suggesting that America doesn’t deserve the distraction of football, or something, because some people don’t like wearing masks.

Victoria Jackson, a sports historian at Arizona State University, reminded me this week: “World War II was a time when the nation came together with a shared sense of sacrifice. Baseball was seen as a reward that was earned for that sacrifice.”

Have Americans sacrificed collectively in their wars against racism and the coronavirus?

Not even close.

Taking cues from White House tweets, large swaths of our country still want to wish the pain of 2020 away. Far too many think that protest against police brutality is wrongheaded and that Covid-19 is a hoax -- that masks are for fools, and that science should be ignored.

Streeter wrapped up:

The N.F.L. is back, but should we still love it?

His answer, clearly, is No.