Blind Eyes or Blank Minds?

by Ken Briggs

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Time for a little Super Bowl related heresy: not against football but against its waves of ardent fans.

This week NCR ran a report on a survey about American attitudes toward football from Religion News Service. If you're already familiar with this mental obsession, you won't find big surprises. When it comes to things we are crazy about, most of our brains shut down except for a little cube somewhere in one of those cortexes whose chief function is to keep us pumped up. Hysteria is at the top of the settings. Rationality has been told to take a hike and common sense is out of the loop.

The special hood ornament on this polling vehicle is that it incorporates God into the works. The Public Religion Research Institute parlayed that into questions involving what percentages of the usual church suspects believed such and such. A lot had to do with what America felt should be done with jocks convicted of beating up their wives. Our fan base went fairly hard core on that one, half insisting that the miscreants be banned from the NFL for life and two thirds never wanting their team to hire such felons. Wonder how the EEOC feels about that? Gay rights activists had reason to cheer, however, because nearly three quarters agreed that sexual preference shouldn't be a factor. On most of these measures, Catholics, non-wired Protestants and evangelicals were basically in alignment.

God personally came up when respondents were asked whether the Almighty grants favors to players "who have faith." Yup, said slightly more than 50 percent, especially "good health and success."

Did that mean, fellow Americans, that believing in God would protect the gladiator from the horrible trauma of head injuries, dementia and long term disability? That the Almighty favors the faithful at the expense of the heathen battering rams who man the interior line? That's what the public seems to think.

At the same time, it's not that those surveyed were totally unaware of what scientists have been trying to get across the sports blather for years now. Two thirds of those surveyed said, yes, football is more dangerous than other sports. Presumably with this knowledge, 76 percent of them said they'd allow little Johnny to play football. Older people were more cautious than younger ones who are supposed to be even more attuned to science.

I've heard parents in effect disavow responsibility by saying that if Johnny wants to play, it's up to him. Legalities aside, would they be equally disengaged if the kids wanted to toy with LSD or drive a Harley or gamble on the Internet. Not perfect analogies but you get the picture. On the eve of our only truly national festival, the Super Bowl, we remain essentially impervious to the threats to the well being of young people we are subjecting them to out of our helpless surrender to the "love of the game." It is a great game, but if it inflicts significant long term damage to a large number of players then we are risking lives in the service of an irrational thrill.

Perhaps alarm is gaining ground by increments but the juggernaut rolls across the land unimpeded. Logic is overwhelmed by huge quantities of money and political clout. Gambling rules. Vast amounts of passive watching goes on for two weeks, further draining our will as a nation to pursue anything but entertainment, even at the cost, quite literally, of the sanity of the entertainers, our children and neighbors. So we're resigned to looking the other way in order to feed our appetites and to chase our fantasies of jackpots. And, yes, I'll probably watch it for the same reason everyone else does, the skill and the drama.I just wish the survey had shown more doubts about whether it should continue. 

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