Trump bashes the NFL It is a win for him.
This seems so wrong, so contrary to the news about traumatic brain injury, it cannot be true. But it is true. Fans are watching the violence, not experiencing it, and they are thinking about their team, not the brain damage.
There is a long history of crowds enjoying watching violence and death. Gladiators in Rome. Public executions. Lynchings. Football back in around 1905. Boxing matches. NASCAR crashes. Football today.
President Theodore Roosevelt intervened to attempt to change the game of college football back in 1905. Back in those days there were, among the smaller number of colleges that fielded football teams, hundreds of serious injuries and multiple deaths right there on the field, some 18 in 1904. The game involved players locking arms in a V formation, there was piling on after the ball was down, there was kicking and choking and eye gouging. This went on for several years. Some colleges dropped their football programs, others were considering it.
There are two takeaways I draw from this history.
One is that Theodore Roosevelt met privately with the leading representatives of the game, at that time the Athletic Directors at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. He gave them an ultimatum. Change the rules of football so it is less violent or he will do something to ban the game. They did. They changed the rules to allow the forward pass and to require six men on the offensive line. This opened up the game and ended the worst of head to head bashing.
The second is that the colleges adopted this reluctantly. Amid yearly deaths on the field, the colleges had been voting year after year to continue the program. Football was popular with the players, the institutions, and the fans. Students died on the field and they kept doing it.
Donald Trump criticizes the "disrespect" shown by players by kneeling for the National Anthem, and he criticizes the game for becoming sissified. Too many rules, not enough hits. Here is a transcript of Trump in Alabama, but it is best to watch the three minute video. In it he takes up the related themes: the kneeling players are bad, the owners should get tough and fire the "son of a bitch" players, the fans should boycott the games, and that the refs are ruining the game by being worried about the safety of the players.
“Today if you hit too hard—15 yards! Throw him out of the game! They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really, beautiful tackle. Boom, 15 yards! The referee gets on television—his wife is sitting at home, she’s so proud of him. They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game. That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game."
|Click Here. 3 minute video. Trump in Alabama this week.|
The most important thing to notice when watching this video is the element that is not the center of attention. The center of attention is Trump, thoroughly enjoying himself. Trump says that the NFL ratings are down because so many people are watching him instead. He preen and congratulates himself.
What is important to notice is the crowd. The crowd is cheering wildly. They love this, too. They interrupt his speech to chant USA, USA, USA.
Trump is defending the moral value of respect for authority, of group solidarity as Americans, and of cleanliness, i.e. avoiding desecration of holy things, i.e. the National Anthem. These are core moral values held by cultural conservatives. These are the values that multicultural liberals feel less strongly and therefore under-appreciate. Liberals are often tone deaf to their appeal. All humans understand the moral value of fairness and not doing harm, but conservatives include those three additional values. Those are the ones that Trump is defending.
[There is another subtext, which this speech brings to the surface, and it is an opportunity to consider in future blogs. The owners of football teams are white men. Most of the players are black men. Trump is urging those white "owners" to re-establish control. The owners make the rules. The players obey. There is a hierarchy that has been broken and needs to be re-affirmed. Race is a subtext.]
|The crowd loves it.|
Football players are seen as warriors, not victims. They put on a uniform are transformed from victims into the group identity and brand itself, fighting for Fair Harvard, the Oregon Ducks, or the New England Patriots. We see courage in their effort and risk taking, not harm.
The harm takes place later and off field. If football players died right there on the field the game would, in fact be banned. Football has been made safe for fans to watch, not for players to play, but what we do not see we need not contemplate.
As it is, Trump can celebrate the "two guys, just really, beautiful tackle" as he bangs his fist together.
Many of this blog's liberal, progressive, gentle readers were astonished by Trump's victory. They would not have been in that crowd chanting USA, USA and cheering Trump. But those were American voters in that crowd, and he would have found such a crowd in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, states that Obama won and Trump did as well.
Trump has connected with a great many voters by appeals to patriotism, identity, and sanctity. These can be progressive values as well. Indeed, there is a long tradition of it.