football violence

last night i watched the colts-titans game. over the years, i have liked phillip rivers as a quarterback. i have enjoyed watching nfl football over the years. i’ll go to a high school football game. i’ll cheer for the UW huskies and ND irish. i will always watch at least part of the rose bowl on new years day. i have seen the rose bowl live a few times.

but i have always been more drawn to the pro game. the hits are harder and there are replays.

when i was a boy, we had to choose a favorite team since there was no pro football in seattle. my team was the oakland raiders. kenny stabler, cliff branch, ray guy, otis sistrunk, jack tatum— that was a great team, a violent team. but ever since the seahawks first season in 1976, we all came to love the hawks. kenny easley is probably my all time favorite defensive player. even though there were many years that the played like seagulls, we still cheered them on, speculated what players they needed and who should be cut– we hoped for the best. when we went to the superbowl against the steelers in 2006, we were elated! oh if only call challenges existed back then…

when we won the superbowl in 2014 we were riding on top of the world. russell wilson, marshawn lynch, and cam chancellor were a demi-gods; the legion of boom dominated. when we lost the superbowl the next year on the last minute of the game, it tore our hearts out. lesson: always give your beast-mode guy the ball!

the game has changed dramatically over the years. given our knowledge of concussions in the game of football, there have been rule changes. for safety concerns, more and more parents do not want their sons playing the game. who knows how this will affect the game? probably fewer guys playing the game.

but the nfl is still very popular. people want to see pro football. it is hard to imagine the day when pro football is not the number one sport in the country. there is a lot of money flowing through this business. there will always be men who desire to play the game and make a lot of money– concussion dangers aside. of course las vegas always has loved the game long before the raiders came to town. now, with internet betting, i have no idea how much money changes hands on an nfl sunday.

nfl football is the perfect calculus for ritualized violence, greed, and fame.

football is our cultural outlet for testosterone release. men especially get sucked into this ethos– i happen to be one of them. the padding and helmets, the hits and tackling– these are our modern day gladiators. i suppose that long term injuries for nfl players are better than having a sword sever your head in the colosseum. boxing, mixed martial arts and octagon fighting are more explicit, exaggerated versions of ritualized violence. testosterone totally unleashed.

we have come a long way, no?

in berkeley in the early 1990s, i was very active in pax christi chapter. pax christi is the national catholic peace movement. i still am a member and follow their leadership. i am drawn to the non-violence of jesus and the saints, ghandi, martin luther king jr and nelson mandela. in the beatitudes jesus taught, “blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons and daughters of God.” i want to be a son of God! isn’t peacemaking the ideal of being a christian?

but i cheered for kenny easley, jack tatum to knock out guys. and i still want whoever is the current seahawk defensive assassin is to clock any opposing receiver or running back who dare cross the field. they are still gladiators on the gridiron. it is what the game is about. while there are nice guy, gentle giants in the nfl, the nature of the game is violent. the game cannot be played peacefully. the rules exist to protect the players but do not change the nature of the game.

there is a long history– maybe cain and abel played their version of backyard football. am i my brother’s (and sister’s) keeper?

nfl football is a reflection of our society– there exists an undercurrent of the dark side of violence. it mirrors our sinful and holy human nature. isn’t that why i cheer for both the seahawks and the st francises/maximillan kolbes of the world? we can decry rioting in the streets, but when we dig deeper, we can understand why it can happen.

can i live in the tension of being both a peace-maker and violence-maker? how can i be a healing instrument in the continued ministry of jesus and at the same time cheer on violent actions on the gridiron?

can’t we just redirect our violent passion to defeat homelessness, hunger, the coronavirus and war? or do we need to condone at some level the violence in our world?

or is jesus’ love commandment as seen in being peacemakers a counterbalance and corrective to our violent nature?

how can i authentically live in this tension?

until i get more clarity in this violence-peace area of me and the world, i ask st francis to pray for our world and me as i cheer, “go seahawks!”

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