Play Football, Not Politics

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Thursday night NFL football is a welcome respite from the toil of the work week and from the politics of the 24-hour news shows. A chance to watch a modern day version of ancient gladiators engaged in physical battle to the cheers of a stadium full of supporters. Many fans played football as kids, quitting the game as the players grew in size and skill, until the cream rose to the top in the NFL. Watching the best do battle on Monday or Thursday night or Sunday is eagerly anticipated by millions of football fans eager for a few hours of escape to a form of fantasyland where they can embrace a passion and exuberance that is frowned upon in other areas of their lives.

So imagine what a damper fans received in the Thursday pre-game show from CBS sportscaster James Brown calling on men, “to do something about domestic violence in light of the Ray Rice situation.” For ten minutes, instead of hearing about the upcoming match-up, we heard another behavior lecture and Ray Rice commentary, which has been the lead news item all week, eclipsing even the 9/11 anniversary.

Make no mistake that this is not a defense of Ray Rice or domestic violence, both of which are deplorable, but sometimes it seems like the NFL is becoming Oprah’s couch. There are plenty of more suitable forums for discussion of the myriad social issues that the media wrings its hands over. If not Oprah, then The View or Ellen. Or any of the many 24-hour cable news shows. But does it have to now be part of the NFL?

Bob Costas last year, during his halftime commentary of a Sunday night NFL game, treated us to a lecture, not on the game he was covering, but instead on how, “the Washington Redskins’ nickname is offensive and the team should change it.” Two years ago, Mr. Costas treated us to a halftime lecture on gun control. Both are subjects worthy of discussion and debate, but can we let Bill O’Reilly or Chris Matthews handle this on their shows rather than during the halftime of a football game?

And let’s not forget the Michael Sam draft. Drafted in the seventh round, he celebrated by kissing his boyfriend, making international news. Can anyone name any other players drafted in the seventh round? Did CNN write about any of these players or photograph them kissing their significant other? Not long after the draft, all-sports-all-the-time ESPN was frantically apologizing. Not for some lousy NFL game predictions, but for discussing the locker room shower habits of Michael Sam and his St. Louis teammates.

Let’s not leave out global warming, now called climate change. Congress, deeming problems like the economy, immigration, unemployment, and foreign affairs unimportant, has its sights on climate change. And apparently they need help. “Democrats in Congress want major sports leagues to play ball on combating climate change.” So we can expect James Brown and Bob Costas to be reminding us to drive electric cars to games or ride the train any day now.

Depending on the political issue, Congress may wish to select the sports league most aligned with their politics. The NBA and NFL are mostly bipartisan with a 60/40 split in contributions, the NBA favoring Democrats and the NFL favoring Republicans. Baseball and hockey lean more to the right, with about 75 percent of contributions of the MLB and the NHL owners going toward Republicans or conservative causes.

And don’t forget the NFL’s support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month with pink ribbons on the footballs and other pink accessories on the players, coaches, and referees. A worthy cause, but so is prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, or macular degeneration. Does the NFL really care about breast cancer or are they trying to enhance their image and ratings? Perhaps let the football players play football and leave the cause-related marketing to other venues.

A sign of the times is that nearly everything is political. Whether the news or an evening TV show, there are always political overtones. Sports may be one of the last refuges where athletes compete and win, without arguments of “fairness” or preferences based on race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. What a shame that the NFL wants to bend to the winds of political correctness by politicizing their game. One of the last “political-free zones” is going away. Next we’ll see Michelle Obama “correcting” stadium menus, replacing hot dogs, beer, and peanuts with carrot sticks and alfalfa.

Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based physician, is an advocate of smaller, more efficient government. Twitter @retinaldoctor.