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Strange, extremely well-written …

… essay? Opinion piece? Indictment? Not sure what to call it.

It appears in ESPN, of all places, and expresses a strange emotion – hopelessness, I guess. There’s something religious, something sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God about it. It recalls some of the most disgusting scandals in college football in the last few months, missing quite a few of them but touching on enough to make the tired point about the stinking corruption of the enterprise.

But this is a routine rhetorical strategy, beginning your article about the vileness of all aspects of university football by reviewing five or six of the most recent you-could-pukes. Usually the next step is to point out that even by those standards the Miami story startles; or people are getting upset but really the latest Chapel Hill vomit isn’t chunky enough to count… (Here’s a good example. Typical sentence: “After the last 12 months, which were filled with scandal and cover-ups and lies and payouts and allegations of child molestation and motorcycles and mistresses, The Ohio State recently reported something like four dozen secondary violations and we didn’t bat an eye.”)

Instead of this, the author goes all Ballad of Reading Gaol:

We make a monster of what we love, and to make a point about what our society honestly values, a writer might post here a comparison of the state-by-state salaries of head football coaches and governors… In the end we remain helpless against ourselves.

Each man kills the thing he loves, it turns out. As in the endlessly anthologized poem by James Wright about the beginning of football season in American towns:

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.


We who are about to die for you losers salute you. Our mothers lie abed wondering why instead of fucking them our fathers want to watch us concuss.

Has another year of scandal and revelation and condemnation finally undone the sport? Are Petrino, Tressel, Paterno, Miami or Montana the beginning of the end?

C’mon. Does any casual fan, any casual reader, any casual viewer, any reasonable person anywhere at the beginning of the 21st century think of “big football schools” as anything other than big football schools?

As it was in 1905, it was another tough year for fans. How do you root for what’s on the helmet without worrying about what’s in it?

Yet we remain helpless against not merely our indifference to what’s in it but indeed to what’s on it. What fan really gives a shit whether it’s Auburn or Alabama? What you’re after is gladiatorial gore good enough to get you going.

Margaret Soltan, May 28, 2012 7:26AM
Posted in: Sport, sport

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