One of my earliest memories — I could not have been four years old — is dragging a kitchen chair over to the sink, climbing up on it, wetting my hands, flipping on the garbage disposal, and getting hit with an electric shock. Although that has never happened since, almost a half-century later, I still cannot turn on a garbage disposal without a sense of trepidation.
Even the dumbest of animals are easily conditioned to avoid angst and discomfort. As the saying goes, once burnt, twice shy — which is why Super Bowl LII’s avoidance of partisan politics will do nothing to help the NFL’s ongoing ratings and public relations problems.
In an increasingly polarized country where the political left has grabbed almost every lever of our culture, professional football was once an island paradise, a mini-vacation, an oasis — whatever metaphor you dig up, the point is the same. At the end of a work week filled with partisan screeching on cable news, left-wing television shows, and far-left Sunday morning programs, the NFL awaited like a promise. And the promise was this…
No matter how awful your week, it would at least end in the warm bath of football, the rare event where Americans of all stripes come together to celebrate individual achievement, sportsmanship, our military, and our country. The NFL represented the best of America — colorblind, patriotic, unifying, and fun.
This, of course, all changed when Colin Kaepernick, a failing quarterback desperate to hold on to the spotlight by any means necessary, was allowed to spit on our country and flag by taking a knee during the national anthem. Encouraged by Democrats, the increasingly partisan sports media, and our always partisan national media, legions of spoiled NFL crybabies soon followed.
Oh, sure, these anti-American millionaires hid behind the lie that they were protesting racism. But if I protest racism by punching your mother, that is me looking for an excuse to punch your mother.
Moreover, the NFL itself was exposed as an anti-American institution. When the only form of personal expression not banned by the NFL is trashing the country, we know exactly where the league stands.
And so, just like that, the oasis was forever poisoned.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his flag-hating toadies might have deluded themselves into believing that the lack of partisan politics in Sunday night’s Super Bowl is the end of their PR problems, but my guess is that the exact opposite is true.
The lack of divisive politics in last night’s game does not matter. What matters, and what most people will walk away with (either consciously or subconsciously), is the memory of four hours of apprehension while watching a Super Bowl, where, for the first time in 52 years, they were not allowed to simply relax and enjoy themselves.
How can anyone unwind with a piano hanging over their head? How can you relax when you constantly have to worry about getting sucker punched? Even if the sucker punch never comes, it is the unease that comes from being on guard that takes all the pleasure and fun out of the experience.
While I am sure everyone was relieved to see that no one, including Pink, who performed it, used the occasion of the national anthem to give our country the middle finger, the NFL is supposed to be a leisure activity, and the fact that you even have to worry about such a thing violates the foundational promise of a leisure activity.
After that shock, my dad found an electrical short in the switch box and fixed it. Nevertheless, some 50 years later…
Compare that to the NFL, where the short in the system — Goodell — got himself a big fat pay raise.
No, the NFL has forever broken its promise to its fans, has removed the fun, and replaced it with angst. Instead of a return to form, Super Bowl LII was a potent reminder of what was, of all that has been lost, a cherished tradition violated by rich ingrates. Most of all, it was another reminder that it is long past time for all of us to move on to something else. We already have. I am no football fan, but my wife is. Nevertheless, we broke with tradition and watched My Cousin Vinny instead. Why? Because we just wanted to relax and enjoy ourselves.
Life is just too short to waste away a Sunday afternoon worrying about getting zapped.