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Since we don't have broadcast television we don't get to see a lot of sports competitions, which is not a big problem for us because my son has never been a sports fan except for hockey and I find sports rather disappointing. I used to be a huge sports fan. I can remember watching the first AFL-NFL Championship game back in 1967 with my brothers and my father and loving every minute of it. I was a big fan of the Green Bay Packers and the '49-ers and mad for Joe Namath when he became the first big-time sports rebel. I liked all professional sports back then, although I think football was my favorite.
Now, here it is many years later and I almost never see a football game and pay no attention whatsoever to the standings, stats, or players except for the Patriots. There is a reason for my defection from football fandom and it mostly has to do with the nature of the game. When I was younger football was very different in some important ways. It was smaller, less like a Hollywood production, and much less like the huge, capitalist money making machine it is today, not to mention the fact that players just seemed to behave better. Part of my continued loyalty to the Patriots is because their coach doesn't allow anyone to jump around and behave like a village idiot when they score a goal or sack a quarterback. I'm a big fan of a certain amount of decorum. There was something charming and relatable about old time football. My parents used to tell us stories about going to watch San Francisco games when the quarterback called all the plays and even drew them in the dirt in the huddle. We were serious football fans. My brothers and I knew all the teams and all the players and never missed a televised game. It was easy back then; there were 3 TV channels and many less games to watch.
I loved football right through the Joe Montana years and in retrospect, I think I may have stopped loving it about the time he retired. Football had stopped looking and feeling like football and started to look and feel like something else. My son, who has no memory of football back in the day, once told me that football looked to him like a profit-driven contest played by bobble-head members of the Village People Band on Viagra. Maybe it's the spandex. It does have a Las Vegas showgirl quality. I have a photograph of my grandfather who was a career officer in the army and played football for some fort where he was stationed. He is standing with his hands on his hips wearing what looks like a turtleneck sweater with a big 'S' on it and knickers with kneepads with what looks like an aviator's leather helmet dangling at his side. When he played it was rough and tumble and probably very dirty. That was football. No pads, no face mask, and metal cleats. It's a wonder anyone survived it.
My son maintains that if it were not for football half of the players would be in jail for violent crimes. He calls them gangsters in spandex. He may be right, which makes an excellent argument for football as a therapeutic exercise or means of protecting society.
We had the opportunity to observe even more brutality recently when we watched a Bruins game at a friend's house. Over the years I have come to really like hockey and it is the one competitive sport my son really likes so we enjoy watching it together. I like to see outrageous skating and puck handling and there is nothing like the performance of a truly great goalie. Hockey is fast paced and exciting most of the time. I know that there are hockey fans who believe that violence is some kind of essential element of the game but frankly, I could live without the fisticuffs. If I want to watch two guys throw punches at each other I'll watch a boxing match and two professionals thank you very much. Pugilism on ice just looks kind of comical to me. Throwing a punch while wearing huge pads and sliding around on ice is a lot like something you'd see clowns doing at the circus. I realize that hockey teams hire guys who are not necessarily great players but are very aggressive and get into a lot of fights because that is what fans want. I find that kind of grotesque, really.
I have come to understand that my problem with modern sports comes down to two issues. It isn't that the players aren't outstanding or the game without merit, it is something else entirely. First of all, I am now old enough that all the players look like a bunch of little kids to me and when they get in fights I want to see them all grounded or given in-school suspensions or something. The other thing, and the most important one, is this: sports, both professional and college, have become so commercialized and so much about money that they have lost a big part of whatever made them sports in the first place. Why bother with athletes at all? Why don't we all just go down to Wall Street and watch a bunch of steroid enhanced brokers pound the hedge funds out of each other? I might enjoy that.
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