In his recent essay on football, Chuck Klosterman writes:
So here’s a low-grade thought experiment: Try to think of something that is (or was) highly controversial and increasingly popular at the exact same time. It won’t be difficult. Here’s an abbreviated list: the rise of Howard Stern, the Beastie Boys in 1986, 2 Live Crew in 1989, Herman Cain last October, Basic Instinct, Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, Andrew Dice Clay, salvia, Scientology, Dennis Rodman, Robert Mapplethorpe, Answer Me!, gay marriage, the Sex Pistols, and laying in the middle of the freeway because you got loaded and watched The Program.
With the possible exception of salvia, what all of these have in common is that these things are not, in and of themselves, dangerous. Or rather, The Program is not dangerous, but lying in the middle of the road because of it is as needlessly dumb as, say, watching CNN for fun.
Klosterman’s trying to draw a connection between the “controversy” surrounding football and its popularity, but that straw man never had life. There is no controversy about football right now. A few vocal people are upset that older players are dying and are just starting to raise their voices. They are, in fact, the complete opposites to the “controversies” above, each of which was manufactured. If you don’t think football’s critics have a leg to stand on, you’d better think they can levitate.
The fact is that no critical mass really cares about concussions, a tragic point Klosterman could have made well enough. Instead, he argues that the argument is at a fever pitch at which it will remain, in mutual orbit with this “controversy,” ad infinitum. This is not the same as saying football will always be violent. It will. If he had said that, he would have been bland but correct, the broken clock at the moment of magic.
Football will change. It will change on its own accord, not despite itself. Klosterman presupposes that the NFL/NFL Jr. would never voluntarily make changes, but they will, because they are in the business of making money and dead people equals bad business. Helmets will get better and brain trauma will be treated better and years from now we’ll look back at the game today as barbaric as we look at the game of the 1970’s. The process will repeat itself. That’s what he’s trying to say, I think, but he could have done all of us a favor by saying it.
Oh, and: “Imagine two vertical, parallel lines accelerating skyward — that’s what football is like now.” He actually wrote that. As far as analogies go, this is the singular one that has been stamp of the fourth-rate snake-oil salesman for more than a decade. Watch your wallet.