Friday, January 30, 2015

No Dog In The Fight

It is Right Before The Superbowl and I am neither a Seahawks nor a Patriots fan. Since apathy is anathema to the NFL, their league-sponsored journalists are working diligently to inject partisanship into the masses; sportswriters aim self-righteous polemics at the ethics (or lack thereof) of the Patriots and the respect (or lack thereof) afforded to the media by the Seahawks. Narratives are constructed so onlookers whose shade of laundry is out of contention can still back whichever team champions their vague moral philosophy - and the dexterousness of the storylines mean either side can claim to "do things The Right Way" to the extent that they do not do what their opposition does. It is an endeavor both effective and unnecessary, in my case. I am grateful, and relieved, that my team is not vying for the championship this year. I am a Ravens fan.

Admittedly, it would have been interesting to watch the mental contortions of pro-Ravens beat writers as they tried to wedge the abysmal behavior of Baltimore's organization into the role of the Good Guys. The words "adversity" and "redemption" and "overcome" would be dutifully misapplied to the negligence and outright hostility toward women exhibited by the Ravens brass - butterfly classifications used to pin a cockroach to the board. These are terms already bandied by the PR staff on the team's official website, lacking only the Lombardi trophy to complete the farce. The news emanating from this website sports the jolly disavowal of reality typical of North Korean press releases, complete with retroactive sour-grapesings of coaching candidates and a complete disappearance of Ray Rice in video/picture media. Even as the team posts retrospectives of their 2012 Superbowl win, the disgraced running back is carefully elided. It should be noted that many photos prominently feature Terrell Suggs, whose own domestic abuse incidents were well-documented but, conveniently for our defensive coordinator, not captured on film.

Since the reports of Ray Rice's assault appeared and were titanically, indefensibly mishandled by owner Steve Bisciotti, President Dick Cass, General Manager Ozzie Newsome, and an indeterminate number of co-conspirators, rooting for the Ravens has become an exercise in cognitive dissonance. It is a bid for escapism rendered futile by the silent refusal of broadcasters to address the elephant in the room. Each mention of replacement running back Justin Forsett as a "pleasant surprise" was a tacit reminder of the circumstances that lead to his rise up the depth chart. Since on-field success seems to obviate off-field misdeeds (consider the gleeful refrain that the Patriots have not won a superbowl since Spygate, as though a fresh title would wipe the past clean), each Ravens win further removed the franchise past the "unfortunate incident," in the eyes of the public.

And so I felt no dismay as I watched the defense collapse repeatedly in the divisional round of the playoffs to the eventual AFC champion Patriots. Nor did I feel schadenfreude. Flacco and company did not deserve to win or lose that game, or any game this season. It is idiotic and disrespectful to believe the outcome of a children's game could deliver a karmic retribution for sheer, brutal indifference the Ravens displayed toward domestic violence is idiotic. It buys into the vacuous morality play the NFL is desperately trying to sell. Justice is not meted out on the field. It is hardly meted out anywhere, but football games are a dangerous placebo for social ills.

I will be watching the Superbowl and keeping an eye on the clock, because the game signals the end of the season, a tidy parceling of time into discrete, unrelated quantities. This is the other great myth the NFL perpetuates, that of finality. Roger Goodell is anxiously awaiting the moment when the misdeeds of the past season fall into the past tense. He would love nothing more than for the league's domestic violence problem to become the Domestic Violence Scandal of 2014, a sad echo that does not interfere with the brand of today. To the NFL, the abuse of women (the concussion of players, the extortion of taxpayer money, etc., etc.) do not need to be solved, merely outlasted until the NFL calendar begins again, narratives reset, and we turn our gaze toward a new run at the championship. Resist this temptation. And enjoy the game.

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