Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Is football compatible with our understanding of human dignity?

A little air guitar at Lambeau for my kiddo
Given that it was suggested that I might be scrupulous when I claimed it's immoral to watch movies featuring full-frontal nudity, I fully recognize that a few eyes will roll when I ask whether football is compatible with the respect for the human person that our faith demands.

After all, this is America. It's Wisconsin! Bum-bum-bum-ba-da-da-dum! Go Pack Go!

Look, I still enjoy football, but I'd be lying if I said that recent developments regarding the sport's devastating long-term effects haven't impacted the way I watch. Whereas I used to stand up and high-five my friends following a bone jarring hits or a blindside quarterback sack, I now cringe a bit and hope the guy on the receiving end still knows his own name in 30 years.

The roots of my crisis of faith in the NFL stretch back to the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic Games when I watched Muhammad Ali try to light the Olympic Torch. Just 20 years earlier, Ali was the greatest athlete on the planet. But repeated blows the head rendered him--still only 54 years old--a shell of his former physical glory.

I love the idea of boxing. Two fighters get in the ring and duke it out until only one is left standing. Passion. Will. Resolve. I'm the type of guy that would love to have a bunch of guys over to watch a heavyweight title bout on Pay-Per-View. But when I remember seeing Ali try to light that torch, I just can't do it. I'm much more disgusted when I see highlights or promotional pieces for UFC. I know its proponents claim MMA is safer than boxing, but when I can't find a way to justify any sport that involves pinning a guy to the ground and repeatedly punching him in the face. It's barbaric.

Certainly, football is not as ruthless because the primary goal of a linebacker is not necessarily to incapacitate the quarterback. But the sport still requires actual violence with actual long-term, debilitating consequences. Real human beings and real families are impacted by memory loss, early dementia, and possibly suicide. Doctors initially couldn't guarantee that Packer tight end Jermichael Finley would be able to move his arms again after his injury last month.

Still, he intends to resume his career. Because football.

I hope that somehow the game can be saved (even as I resolve to never, ever let my kids play). And I understand that the players are adults who know the risks and are compensated heavily for them. I'm not saying we should ban football nor that it's wrong to be a fan. I'm just saying that as I tune in on Sunday afternoons, I can't help but to wonder does my three hours of entertainment justify the violence of real damage being done to real human beings.

What do you think?


  1. Guess I missed your post on immoral films. No, you aren't being scrupulous in avoiding bad entertainment, you're developing a Catholic worldview. Someone calling you scrupulous more likely has an attachment to worldly pleasures they are unwilling to give up. Video presentations of mature themes is far more dangerous than books where the reader must actively generate their own images (or choose not to), rather than to be passively presented with images. Not only do images, being the object, invoke the passions that have that object, but the ideas and themes of the movies affect the formation of the intellect and soul.

    When I was able to go out to Apple's trailer site and see 10's if not 100's of trailers side by side, it really made manifest how dark, perverted and consistent the themes of Hollywood entertainment is. I find it most discouraging when Catholic bloggers try to "baptize" movies as "prolife" or "Catholic" because they find one element in a movie that if one really stretches it, can be presented as not inconsistent with some moral teaching, while overlooking the other objectionable elements.

  2. Tying the film entertainment to sports, the link is how the actors/players are viewed. Actors were once seen as disreputable because they spent their lives pretending to be who they are not. The celebrity cult we have now is based precisely not on who the actor really is, but rather the characters that they've played and how they are marketed by PR.

    Likewise, sports has been corrupted by the legitimizing of professional athletes. While amateur sports [from the Latin "for love of"] was extolled for the virtues of sport, professionals who made a living from it were disreputable. We now have people who devote their whole lives to sport, for sport's sake, or the money, or fame, rather than using sport as a means of character development to be used for something worthwhile. ie, Bannister broke the 4 min mile while studying medicine, and didn't devote his life to being a track star.

    The martial aspect of certain sports has been completely detached from being a demonstration of skills of a soldier or manliness, and has become nothing but fodder for entertainment.

    Consider Vick's dog fighting. Even though that involved *mere animals* that is viewed as heinous entertainment, but using men for the same purpose is marketed as glorious. Vick has a story of punishment for crime and redemption, and yet he is still vilified. Tom Brady (catholic) is touted as a golden boy for his skills and for banging one supermodel while his other one was still knocked up. Even though his actions has left his son to grow up in a broken home--which is far worse than anything Vick did, that's just dandy because he's a stud.

    And we haven't even gotten to addressing the exploitation of college players who face the same risks as NFL players and not only don't get compensated for it, they are limited by NCAA rules on how much they can insure themselves for.

  3. The line of thought expressed in your article is the reason why I have fully embraced baseball as my sport of choice and watch football only if it's convenient. The sport is approaching "Roman coliseum" entertainment.

    1. "only if it's convenient" to go to the Roman coliseum??

      Baseball has all the same elements of elevating a pastime to a profession where disreputable characters are literally *idolized* and those few players with decent characters are encouraged to waste their adulthood and talents as mere entertainers so a fanbase can live vicariously.

    2. Cassandra, your blanket condemnation of enjoying professional sports makes sense only if the following conditions are met:
      A. Entertainment is immoral
      B. It's impossible to enjoy the sport without elevating cheering to idol worship
      C. Players can't use their celebrity for good

      There's nothing wrong with enjoying baseball.

    3. Your line of argumentation flew foul.

      You are conflating baseball with the MLB and MLB's product (and note that the MLB and NFL speak about promoting their *product* and *brand*, not the sport). I could use your argument for defending Lingerie Football. After all, there's nothing wrong with enjoying football.

      MLB isn't just baseball; it involves a whole lot more. Are they accepting sponsorships from morally offensive sponsors; exploiting 3rd world youth in their development programs; forcing players to endorse offensive sponsors explicitly or implicitly by wearing sponsor logos; creating near occasions of sin and temptation for players to use PEDs to meet ever increasing demands for performance; tacitly endorsing PEDs to create a more exciting product (like after the 1994 strike); contributing to the corruption of immature players (and coaches) via excessive compensation? On and on.

      Whether watching an occasional game on "free" TV involves complicity on the part of the fan is also different than if one is supporting the MLB through merchandise and tickets. Whether an individual fan with proper formation can avoid personal sin is distinct from the effect the League has on the fan base and players as a whole.

      If you enjoy baseball, go watch a high school game.

      Take another swing batter...

    4. Oh, let's not forget that MLB has had the temerity to stomp on Good Friday.

    5. Just to be clear, are you actually suggesting that if I take my family to a ball game on any given Tuesday in July that it's a sinful act because the players might use the money to sin? If that's a part of your argument, I can't imagine it would be productive to continue this conversation.

    6. The batter elected to take the last pitch.

      You've begun to question the morality of viewing movies based on content. You've extended those concerns to the NFL based on the physical effects on players. I've pointed out that simply moving to MLB presents problems as I have laid out. You have not responded to them. MLB accountants don't care if they get your revenue in July or on Good Friday as long as they meet their profit goals. There are plenty of pagans to fill the parks on Opening Day, but they need more than that throughout the year. They depend on you to overlook specific incidents or game day promotions so that "family day" will get sold out.

      We live in an increasingly corrupt society where entertainment industries continue to break boundaries and moral rules to increase revenues. Commercial entertainment is not a necessity, therefore the culpability for complicity is higher.

      I'm not prepared at this time to declare attendance at an MLB game is a sin. I will however point out that Satan is very adept at using the slippery slope to corrupt us. Our choices are becoming more complex. Picking Tuesday in July over Good Friday is just a convenient rationalization. Either MLB is acceptable to support or it isn't. At what point isn't it?

  4. I agree with you. The problem that I have with major league sports, ( and in a smaller way college sports) is that they has been elevated to "idol-worship" status. You see, I listened well to Sister Mary Carmel when she explained what the first commandment entailed. She pulled no punches and clearly told us that ANYTHING earthly that becomes that important is a sin against the Commandment.
    From the worship of the players,( to the point of elevating their aberrant behavior off the field, so that others seek to emulate it ), to the real waste of raw emotion over a game or a team winning or losing a game. You see tears flow, walls smashed with fists, excessive alcohol use, etc., etc., .
    I believe that this excess is an offense against the First Commandment.

    1. There's no doubt that people elevate sports to the level of idolatry. None at all. But that doesn't make it sinful to be passionate about a game. Being a fan is a diversion. Assuming that our prayer/sacramental lives are in good order and we don't elevate sports to a place where they don't belong, I think it's absolutely ok to get into the game. I'm not sure raw emotion is a zero-sum commodity nor that our faith demands raw emotion from us.


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