by Robert Bridge, Strategic Culture:
The National Football League, suffering from dwindling attendance and negative publicity, seems to be mirroring national trends as it is falling victim to political and economic issues instead of concentrating on what it does best: performing for fans on the field of dreams.
Growing up in the post-industrial city of Pittsburgh in the 1970s, at a time when the steel industry was collapsing and the oil crisis was in full swing, was not always a bed of roses.
I have childhood memories of morning bus rides to school through tough, gritty neighborhoods where newly laid off factory workers – still conditioned to getting up early for work – were seen sipping beer inside of bars at the crack of dawn instead. The full extent of the crisis, however, which went on to create an economic wasteland across a broad swath of the country known as the Rust Belt, is something I failed to comprehend at the time. Only much later did I come to appreciate how the world of sports eased the economic suffering at least to some degree.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, winning four Super Bowls during this time of troubles helped to alleviate, however briefly, the desperation that came with every closed factory and mill. It was poor compensation, of course, but it helped Pittsburgh get through the darkest of times.
Today, however, with such conflicting memories in mind, it is difficult to understand the declining state of football, arguably America’s favorite pastime. Such a phenomenon, it must be emphasized, may presage other problems down the road, and not just in the world of sports.
When a person enters a stadium to watch a sporting event – an activity that predates ancient Rome and its Coliseum – one does so in the unconscious expectation that he or she is leaving their daily worries at the parking lot. Spectator sports facilitates a modern form of escapism, a release of pent-up energies, which has become a critical part of our urban existence, loaded as it is with daily stress and uncertainty. Those safety release valves that have long regulated American society are now becoming destabilized.
Today, escapism through sporting events is threatened as increasingly frustrated fans have become a captive audience to the players’ politically tainted exploits, like ‘taking a knee’ during the national anthem. If these well-paid athletes wished to alienate people from the very issues they are attempting to make public – in this case, excessive police abuse of unarmed Black men – they could not have found a worse way.
NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the athlete- activist who in August 2016 started the trend of ‘taking a knee’ during the singing of the national anthem, arguably had far better ways to promote his activist agenda off the field, and without alienating so many people, not least of all those who support the game with their hard-earned dollars – the fans.
Today, the unemployed Kaepernick is reportedly ready to play for the Washington Redskins, but the negotiations are faltering, and not just because the head coach of the Redskins is adamantly opposed to politically motivated stunts on the field. There is also the political issue of the name ‘Redskins,’ which many people oppose, saying that it is a slur against the Native Americans.