I’m not in the habit of linking Jonathan Chait, who is an extremely liberal democrat and with whom I typically disagree completely, but Chait recently wrote, in New York Magazine, an obviously heartfelt defense of America’s national game against his politically correct and totally-sissified usual allies which I liked very much.
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 parentsâ€™, but the socialization awaiting my children has transformed beyond recognition. Rather than allowing kids to â€œsettle their differencesâ€ â€” i.e., allowing the strong and popular to prey upon the weak and vulnerable â€” authorities aggressively police bullying. Schools are rife with organizations to support gay students, something unimaginable not long ago. Nerdy and cool, once antithetical terms, now frequently describe the same things, like affinity for comic-book characters or technological savvy. American schools have mostly moved beyond a world where football players (and, correspondingly, cheerleaders) embody the singular hierarchical ideal of their gender. This is entirely to the good, a triumph of egalitarianism.
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 oneâ€™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. …
Football is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. Absurd as it may sound to say this about a career as a second-stringer for an average team, nothing Iâ€™ve done in my life felt as important at the time I was doing it.
This is not because my life is a failure, and it is not because football stole my youth. Footballâ€™s enemies have an accurate sociological observation, but their conclusion is backward. Nothing else pumped so much adrenaline through me that I couldnâ€™t feel my feet underneath me as I ran and could barely remember my name, or made me weep or scream uncontrollably. 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, â€œis 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.â€ That is all more or less true. But shooting is precisely the problem with war. War minus the shooting is actually pretty great.
Read the whole thing.