Football is one hell of a drug

OPINION

  • Left, Chicago Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett (80), and right, Chicago Bears cornerback Kelvin Hayden (24), during practice at Olivet Nazarene University, in Bourbonnais, Ill., on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune) B583080940Z.1 ....OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT, NO DIGITAL MANIPULATION... (football pro)
Left, Chicago Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett (80), and right, Chicago… (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago…)
September 08, 2013|By Stephen Markley, @stephenmarkley | For RedEye

Do you ever have great contradictions between your head and your heart? Like you can deeply admire President Obama but be extremely troubled by certain policies from his administration, or think John Mayer is an abject tool but now you've listened to his new album around 700 times? Sometimes it feels like everything in life is that lying, cheating lover who's too sexy, too fun, too panty-melting to give up.

But there's no greater contradiction than football.

Football, college and pro, is irredeemably corrupt, staked through with ugly values and exploitative of America's lower classes in a way no other professional sport can match.

The NFL made a pitiful, passing feint in the direction of ethically responsible behavior with a $765 million concussion settlement, which briefly pushed out of the news Aaron Hernandez and the long line of players who kill themselves and others with firearms. In college, low-income, largely African-American players liquefy their brains without compensation while their schools and the NCAA reap profits in the billions. Any way you look at it, football is disgusting.

And yet football also is awesome. Like really, really awesome.

For me, there isn't a more relieving moment in sports than when football begins. Even professional baseball players are bored by baseball season. Baseball is like watching two old men play endless stalemated games of tic-tac-toe. Baseball is so lame it's coming back around to being cool, like pogs or checkers. Then suddenly, football season arrives with all the heart-poundingness of encountering a coked-up Ray Lewis in a dark alley, and every weekend becomes twice as sweet. The Buckeyes will compete for a national championship! The Browns might not be totally all the way awful! Football is here!

Just like that, all the nagging issues that have become pretty much impossible for a remotely thoughtful person to ignore (the Washington Redskins are still named the Washington Redskins?!) evaporate. Replacing it, we have the joy of watching Johnny Manziel, the greatest a-hole quarterback to hate since Tom Brady, or Adrian Peterson, the steamrolling freak-show cyborg. Who cares about all that irreparable brain damage or flagrant labor law violations constituting the entirety of the semi-pro sports league that is big-time college football?

It's [bleeping] football season!

With observers such as Malcolm Gladwell predicting the end of football in the next quarter-century, we have to gobble it up while it's still around. Of course, I will decry the concussions and the spirit of violence, and even buy into the Noam Chomsky critique that it primes the nation for war and jingoism—right up until Georgia running back Todd Gurley stiff-arms a guy so good his head pops off. I'll join the chorus of concerned fans advocating for reform within both college football and the NFL—unless stud Buckeyes linebacker Ryan Shazier massacres Iowa's quarterback (or anything equally cool).

Football fans will have to live with this duality for the foreseeable future, understanding the deeply misguided paths on which both the NCAA and the NFL have embarked while still frothing at the mouth for that game that ends with a mind-blowing end-zone catch.

Football is America's lying, cheating, sex-machine lover, and my panties will dissolve every fall.

RedEye special contributor Stephen Markley is the author of "The Great Dysmorphia" and "Publish This Book."

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