For two decades, I have celebrated the start of the National
Football League's season. Yet this year I cannot swallow it whole.
In normal times, sexism and over-the-top flag-waving attach
themselves to the NFL like slime barnacles on a boat and a deft
pressing of the mute button blocks out the bluster. But in these
upside-down times when war is peace, occupation is liberation,
and democracy means voting for one of two pro-war Yalies, the
game has been subsumed by a cesspool of war mongering
impossible to ignore.
The stink was up my nose during the season's opening game
between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. Timed
to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11, we were force fed bomber
jets, silicon adorned cheerleaders, and Hank Williams, Jr., asking
us if we were 'ready for some football' - and all before the opening
Williams, Jr. is a fitting choice amidst the planes, pompoms, and
patriotic poobah. In his hit 1988 song, a historical epic called, "If
the South Would have Won," he chortled:
"If the South would have won we would have it made.
I'd make my supreme court down in Texas and we wouldn't have
no killers getting off free
If they were proven guilty then they would swing quickly, instead of writing' books and smiling' on T.V. We'd put Florida on the right track, 'cause we'd take Miami back"
[from who? Jews? Cubans? Haitians? Or will Hank go for the
"I said if the south would a won we would a had it made! Might
even be better off!"
[In a league that is 65% Black, yet 80% of the coaches, 94% of the
General Managers, and 100% of the owners are white, a paean to
plantation life seems disturbingly appropriate.]
Given the flag waving, war posturing, and the swirling dervish of
sexism I understand why there are courageous radicals who
would sooner spoon-hug with Dick Cheney before watching the
rest of the game; why there are heroic activists who would rather
watch Alan Keyes in Mel Gibson's 'Othello' before joining a tailgate;
why there are principled vegans who would prefer drinking a mug
of gravy and flossing with gristle than do anything that involves
But if you turned the channel, you missed a display of everything
great about the gridiron - wild running by Corey Dillon and Edge
James, sharp passing by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and a
spine tingling end with a Colt fumble and missed field goal in the
final 3 minutes.
The game had more suspense than anything since the scene in
'Fahrenheit 9/11' when you wonder if George W. Bush was ever
going to put down 'My Pet Goat'.
Yet when it was all done, the taste of a sports production drenched
in right-wing sludge lingered, like I had spent three hours chewing
I now believe that it's time to be heard and I know I am not alone.
Us radical helmet huggers want our game a-la-carte: 60 minutes
of football, hold the militaristic pep-rally.
I'm tired of pressing the mute button on myself. If network honchos
will exploit football for political gain, we should return the favor.
The next time we're at the stadium or in the sports bar and the
game is being used as a vessel to push an agenda completely at
odds with the kind of world we want to live in, let's open our
mouths and speak out.
When the national anthem is played, don't stand up. Instead ask
the person next to you if they know that the anthem was
regimented during sporting events as a way to rally people around
World War II. When salaries of players are mentioned, tell a
stranger that their paychecks were won through union battles that
included strikes with armed picket lines in the 1980s. When
warplanes fly overhead ask how many peewee teams, and
physical education classes are cut for each jet. When Romeo
Crennell, Ted Cottrell, or any of the talented African-American
assistant coaches show up on screen, ask why Dennis Erickson
[career record 38-43] of the 49ers has a top job while they remain
This might not make you the most popular person in the room, but
if you scratch the surface with most folks, it's amazing what you
can find. Over 50% of this country thinks we are moving in the
wrong direction and oppose the continuing occupation in Iraq. A lot
of those folks spend their Sunday watching the patriotic hoedown
thrown by the NFL. I say it's time to crash the party.
Are we ready for some football? Sure, but let's turn the question
around and ask: Is football ready for us?
Dave Zirin's new book 'What's My Name, Fool: Sports and
Resistance in the United States' (Haymarket Books) comes out in
His work can be read at www.edgeofsports.com. To have his
column sent to you every week, just e-mail