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The NWTFL

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There are some days I just feel like packing this blog in, handing it over, and joining a knitting circle with a bunch of other spinsters. Today was almost one of those days.

WTF?

I mean, seriously. WTF?

We football fans are sitting here in our armchairs, scrawling out our mock fantasy drafts, waiting for our season tickets or getting wristbands to purchase single-game seats, analyzing our teams' strengths and weaknesses, getting our cheering sections together and needling our rivals over the internet, gearing up for the new season of the most pageantic of all American professional sports.

And in the midst of this ritual, the sport we love is going through its most profound identity crisis since -- when? The strike season of '82?

That can't be right. It seems inappropriate to compare this to a labor dispute. Nobody died from picketing. Certainly no dogs.

If you sit and think about what's going on with the image of the NFL -- when I do, anyway -- the brain launches into a descending trail of emotional reaction.

You get angry -- I do, anyway -- that for some players making more money than our entire generational line will ever see, the comforts of innocuous materialism and fame are not enough to get their psyches into alignment. A car, a mansion, and enough money to travel anywhere you want to go -- you'd think that'd do it.

But it doesn't, for some. They have to "feloniously coerce" someone, whatever that means. They have to aggressively assault someone. They have to (allegedly) purchase, construct and plan out, over the course of six years, a parcel of land for the breeding, training, fighting, wagering and execution of dogs, for monetary rewards that represent a fraction of what they'd get if they just play the damn game.

WTF?

Then you feel sorrow -- I do, anyway -- because for some other players, while NFL fame may not make them violent or pathological, it doesn't fill the void somehow. They drink a lot, repeatedly, in public places where they wouldn't be if they weren't searching for something to fill the void. They get caught, they get fingerprinted, and they compound their disgrace. We get mad at 'em at first, because they keep shooting themselves in the foot. But at a base, human level, you just wish they felt better so they wouldn't have to keep plastering up their internal injuries with stuff that doesn't even work on the poor.

WTF?

Then you feel concerned -- I do, anyway -- because for almost all these kids, football was a way out. Out of their boring suburbs, out of their small towns, sure. But for others it was a way out of a much more dangerous, uncertain place. Some saw violence on the street every day. When they were able to venture out of their homesteads into other territories, they were met with fear or hostility from a culture protected by its own snap judgments, its blind uncertainties and convenient bigotries. The delivery on the promise of something inconceivably better -- shouldn't it make them grateful to get out, to survive, to "escape the killing fields," as Ice T would put it?

You could let wealth regenerate yourself, or you could use it as impersonal insulation -- either way, that's your decision. I can deal with that 'cause it's none of my business. But why do some let it destroy themselves? Or were they even there to begin with?

WTF?

There's a bunch I don't understand about the life of a football player, from any angle, since I never was one. I think it's simplistic to assume football ramps up the aggression of the men who play the game, because that doesn't explain the obvious goodness of people like Walter Payton, or Shaun Alexander. This game doesn't destroy all who touch it -- although seeing pictures of Earl Campbell today, almost irreparably atrophied from years of getting hit for three hours each week in autumn, frankly makes me weep.

But shouldn't the legacy, nobility and uniquely American promise of this game keep at least some germ of goodness alive in the guys still playing the game? Can the hassle of the paparazzi really suck all that out of their throats?

We all know, thanks to the media and the microscope, an uncomfortable question is cresting about the character of the NFL. Not all of it, of course, but enough that you'd notice. I don't know what it could be. Maybe too many guys are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, only some of them seem compelled to go right back to that wrong place after the fact.

But even the "wrong-place-wrong-time" argument doesn't explain the mentality of someone who spends years (allegedly) developing a micro-league of a dog sport that subsists -- doesn't "occasionally involve," but thrives -- on acts of unspeakable brutality, for which the word "inhumane" doesn't even begin to cover it.

What could possibly be missing from your life that you have to oversee the regular mauling, and gruesome execution, of dogs?

(Allegedly.)

W. T. F.?

It's days like this I feel a little chastened, a hair's breadth short of embarrassed, about being an NFL fan. The very same day, as coincidence would have it, that I suspect many WWE fans are feeling a cold jolt of reality as well.

I don't have any answers. I wish this was something that could be cured by Mike Nolan being allowed to wear a tie on the sidelines.

Maybe it's easy for me, the commentator, to suggest that the moral compass of the NFL has been crushed. I don't lead these kids' lives; I don't see where they came from. But it's clear football was not their deliverance -- it wasn't their way out. There's something else going on, something so deep football stardom cannot pretend to address it. I'm struggling with the moral question of what that is, at the same time that I'm dealing with my cognitive dissonance about the reality.

Do they all have to grow up rich, too, like the Manning Brothers, to turn out okay? If there's a soul problem going on, then is Roger Goodell's hard-ass stance -- much as I support it, out of desperation -- really going to cure it?

I hate writing entries that are filled with nothing much more than questions. But a YouTube of me shaking my head isn't very compelling. I don't get it. I don't get any of it. I'm like Frances McDormand at the end of Fargo: having solved the literal facts of the crime, understanding the chain of events, but still utterly unable to emotionally connect with the motive. (Funny enough, McDormand's character, Marge, couldn't understand why all she'd seen had been done for nothing more than "just money.")

We're gonna get lost pretty soon in the season. We tend not to let these things hover over us. But right now it's maddening to try and figure out where things go wrong. Even if we restate that being famous and well-paid should be enough, it becomes more obvious that it isn't, and that restatement becomes a cliche in itself. But how do we stop people from doing harm to themselves, or to a literal pack of dogs who don't have the gift of a conscience?

We can't. Somewhere in Virginia, a bunch of grown men engaged in the joyous practice of torturing and killing animals, to satisfy some bizarre need for thrills that they could only get from slaughter. Literal slaughter. And at least one grand jury believes one of the richest men in the NFL gave his organizational talents to the whole enterprise.

Where is our soul?

What happened to it?

What the fuck?