The liberal war on football

Jonathan Chait writing in New York magazine: (hat tip to Isegoria and (Also, that’s American football, for my European readers.)

…The same organization cited by Time found that, over a 30-year period, football is not a uniquely deadly sport for high-school athletes. It is not even the deadliest sport. High-school football has a fatality rate of 0.83 per 100,000 participants. This is actually lower than the rates of boys’ basketball (0.92), lacrosse (1.00), boys’ gymnastics (1.00), and water polo (1.3)…

Over the last generation, the social experience of American youth has rapidly liberalized. The cultural mores of my school life largely resembled those of my parents’, but the socialization awaiting my children has transformed beyond recognition… In fact, it is a sign of this advance that American society is now questioning whether football has any role within it at all. But it also marks a point where the advance of social liberalism has swung from the defensive (creating a place of respect and value for those who have long been excluded) to the offensive (suggesting that only a world conforming closely to down-the-line-liberal values is worth living in).

The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has argued that people naturally gravitate toward competing notions of morality. Some of those, like fairness and caring, are associated with liberalism. Others, like loyalty and respect for authority, are associated with conservatism. Football is obviously not just for conservatives, but it does embody the conservative virtues. The backlash against it is a signpost of a new social system unwilling to consider that the worldview of one’s political adversaries might have any wisdom to offer at all and untroubled by the fear that, perhaps, football exists because it channels a genuine, deep-seated impulse. In this case, that discipline might be a helpful response to impulses of aggression, and not just a false-heroic myth used to legitimize and justify brutality.

…Absurd as it may sound to say this about a career as a second-stringer for an average team, nothing I’ve done in my life felt as important at the time I was doing it…It is the adventure of your life, a chance to prove yourself as a man before other boy-men who, even if you never see them again, you will always regard as brothers-in-arms.

This is an increasingly antiquated conception of male socialization. George Orwell, the old socialist, was well ahead of his time when he scribbled out an angry rant against the sporting ethic, which, he wrote, “is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.” That is all more or less true. But shooting is precisely the problem with war. War minus the shooting is actually pretty great.

I never played football myself, but I come from the midwest and my father was a high school football coach, so maybe I’m not neutral.  Nevertheless, I know an attack on masculinity when I see it, so I appreciate Chait’s empathy.

7 Responses

  1. […] Source: Throne and Altar […]

  2. Bring back high school boxing teams. I think a few Catholic schools still have them. Anyway, when just about everything else has been destroyed it’s farcical and degenerate to suddenly decide to draw the line at football. Especially given how foul and nasty college and pro football is for the most part.

    But I actually like the idea of going on the offensive (for the first time in how many decades?) and starting a campaign to bring back high school boxing teams.

  3. I played Rugby (the nearest British equivalent) at both school (compulsory) and college (voluntary) I like to think that being kicked or trampled – the boots, as I remember them, were like cleated violin-cases – was, somehow, character-building.

    There really was a sense of danger and this is curious. I have ridden all my life and still do at 69 and I know that eventing is much more dangerous than rugby; the chances of surviving a rotational fall, with the horse somersaulting, are not good and four or five riders are killed every year. Yet, no one feels the kind of fear, taking a 1.5m jump on a horse weighing 650 kg going at 35 km an hour, that one does being pursued down the pitch, I suppose because of the illusion (for illusion it is) of being in control.

  4. I believe this a reaction to the professionalization of the sport.
    Despite the current popularity of the professional league, the college level and the amount of kids who play it; most of that is invested in the remnants of family/community traditions, the game being television friendly, and the ever growing acceptance of the gambling that comes with football. When most male interest involves fantasy football leagues (the greatest source of that gambling spirit, ) you no longer possess the same passionate relation to the game as men (as amateurs) did decades ago. This is the ‘boxing problem’ played out in another venue. Football will not decline because of some break with masculinity; but the disinterest and alienation of the professional from amateur levels. All this other stuff is jus’ excuses and nonsense.

    Now personally, I am not much of a football fan, and I find its “war”-analogies tedious. To me, the game does not match the leisurely perfection of baseball. That aside, I sympathize with those who believe they are losing something. I just can’t imagine what, when American football has been so detached from the average male for a long time. When scandals involving high school and private school coaches getting ‘ringers’ to improve their teams (and let’s not even get into the mess they made of collegiate football) became a thing decades ago, the lovers of the sport already lost the battle.

  5. “War minus the shooting is actually pretty great.”

    Let me unpack that. With a helping of Jünger’s Storm of Steel. War can be an experience transcending the ego. Either you are paralyzed by fear, or if you can overcome that, you can only do so by forgetting about yourself, not seeing things from the perspective of your own self-preservation, but rather seeing yourself as a mean to an end. It is too bad that the price of it is young lives lost and healthy people maimed, disabled and disfigued. I.e. the shooting.

  6. As a European, I often feel collectively less masculine than Americans. NFL vs. association football plays a significant role in it. I don’t know what to do with it. The problem is, whenever we get on an testosterone trip, the results are pretty crazy, see the two world wars. The issue is, we tend to see masculinity as a collective thing, and this means that. The kind of frontier-pioneer type individual masculinity is missing.

  7. If the left is against it, God is for it.

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