If baseball is, or at least used to be, a languidly paced sport played on an asymmetrical greensward that recalls America’s agrarian past, football is an industrial product of the modern age. Confined to a precisely measured rectangle that mimics the electronic screen, football plays out in staccato bursts of violence, interrupted by commentary and meta-commentary, near-pornographic slow-motion replays and scantily clad young women selling you stuff. Though I’m not sure that the commercials during the Super Bowl, or any lesser football game, really have much to do with consumer products as such. Instead, they’re selling an idea, the idea of the sort of person you must be if you’re watching the game: Funny, alert, sexually alive, a bit self-mocking, surrounded by friends and endlessly loyal to football, to America and to television.
Also, you’re apparently the kind of person who enjoys watching men do irreversible damage to each other’s brains. A bit of a buzzkill, I know. Football these days looks a lot less like symbolic or theatrical violence and more like the real thing. This brutal collision sport, which is essentially unique to North America, is deadly to those who play it and toxic in other ways to those who worship it. It has poisoned many otherwise honorable American campuses with corruption and hypocrisy: If Jerry Sandusky using his association with the revered football program at Penn State as a cover for raping children is by far the worst example, abuses of a less dramatic sort are widespread in college football.