by Chris Foss
2018 has begun with promise for the beleaguered sport of football. Super Bowl LII was one of the most thrilling games in NFL history, and that was nearly topped by Alabama’s come-from-behind victory in the College Football Playoff championship game. These big moments can’t erase the fact, however, that no American sport endured more tumult during 2017. A host of controversies cast a shadow over football last year. Pregame kneeling polarized football’s audience and negatively impacted its viewership. Continued negative findings about the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) also likely played a role in the decline in ratings and attendance. Injuries took a toll on the sport, as a number of its biggest stars saw their seasons end prematurely. Football was also rocked by #metoo: several TV personalities were suspended or fired for sexual misconduct, and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is selling the team after sexual misconduct allegations. A few years ago, football was the golden goose of American sports. Now TV ratings have plunged by double digits for college and pro football, and half-empty stadiums are commonplace. Is the end in sight for football?
Short answer: no, we should not get out the dirt and shovels just yet with which to bury football. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, when it seems like this time the crew of the Enterprise is finally toast, a fatalistic Scotty throws up his hands and exclaims, “We’re dead!” Mr. Spock then looks into the camera and essentially breaks the third wall, reminding the audience, “I’ve been dead before.” In essence: we may be old and down on our luck, but we’re going to be fine. Hard to argue with that logic. History likewise tells us that football has endured seemingly insurmountable trouble before and come back strong.
by Keith Aksel
The arrival of the year-end holidays can be a welcome moment for most Americans. Unless you don’t have positive associations with them for some reason, most Americans view the Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s stretch as an exciting time to decompress with family and friends. We may attend special parties, church services, or family reunions that only occur at this time of year, bringing around the warm-fuzzies just the way Hallmark drew it up.
Sports are part-and-parcel with those warm-fuzzies, riding in Santa’s sidecar on the way to holiday joyland. When you think about it, all sports fans associate the holidays with watching sports in one way or another. But to what extent do we view sports as the reason for the season? Do we anticipate these holidays for the actual celebrations they’re meant to revisit, or do we see holidays primarily as vessels for special sporting events?
Are you looking for a gift to give yourself this year, or for someone else to give to you? Or are you looking for the perfect gift for the Tattered Pennant fan in your family? Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or plain old Festivus, we’ve got you covered this year. Don’t miss out on these awesome gifts—get your shopping done early! (FYI, we don’t have any promotional relationships with these vendors.)
PAGES: Jim Ross and Paul O’Brien, Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling
For those of you with loved ones needing a new podcast, think about this nearly 11-hour audiobook just released last month. Ross’ memoir of his career as pro wrestling’s equivalent to Vin Scully should be an interesting listen. Even if you don’t like wrestling, this book should be interesting for a number of reasons. Ross—one of the lead World Wrestling Entertainment announcers for over twenty years—grew up deep in the heart of Oklahoma, where his first love was football. He played center for his high school football team, and did some college radio announcing before his wrestling days began. Still a big college football fan, Ross did some commentary for Fox Sports while on hiatus from the WWE a few years ago. If you love wrestling, football, the Plains, and barbeque sauce, you’ll like Slobberknocker.
by Keith Aksel
Americans expect their opinions to matter. They vote, protest, and clamor for reform on every topic imaginable, all tied to a larger shared experience with democracy. As the world’s most prominent democracy, and the product of the first successful democratic revolution, the United States provides a key example of how participatory government changes its population. Over the years, Americans have questioned their government like no other people on earth, which is kind of the point of the institution of democracy to begin with.
But, the problem with democratic politics is that when you extend the democratic impulse to sports, you begin reading into sports something that isn’t there. Pro sports are not, nor have they ever been, democratic. And yet, Americans still seem convinced that their voices can change how sports leagues operate. This is a trend that misleads legions of fans, causing a misunderstanding of the role of pro sports in daily life
by Chris Foss
Aaron Rodgers’ prayer to beat the Lions. Auburn’s “kick-six” against Alabama. Teresa Witherspoon’s half-court miracle shot in the WNBA Finals. These are among the greatest moments in sports. From ownership on down to the players and the fans, the game-winning miracle unifies everyone affected by it like nothing else. For the losing side, agony enshrouds all, as though a loved one has just died. But for the winners, there’s almost no better feeling in the world. It is the deus ex machina. More than the “thrill of victory”, it’s the thrill of seemingly heaven-delivered victory.
The Greco-Roman deus ex machina was, to those ancient societies, a means of bringing sudden endings to theatrical performances. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a person or thing […] that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” Rather than feeling artificial or contrived, however, the sports version of achieving the seemingly impossible brings all of us—fans, players, coaches, even owners—closer to pure, unfiltered joy than anything else in life. The sports deus ex machina is just as rare as the movie/TV ex machina, and is totally unscripted, both of which make it all the more joyous.