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Tomgram: Robert Lipsyte, Thank Football For Donald Trump

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

I was wondering recently: If I'm not watching it anymore, how about you? When, out of curiosity, I went looking in the modern fashion, via Google, I found that there had indeed been increasing numbers of people like me back in 2016 and 2017, but no longer. The numbers of watchers stopped dropping as 2018 ended and have been on the rise ever since. In case you hadn't guessed so far -- and why should you have? -- what I'm no longer watching is football.

Okay, maybe one reason I'm not watching is that the two National Football League teams in my hometown, the Giants and the Jets, are awful this year, but that's hardly all of it. I think -- though until now I hadn't really thought much about it -- that the flood of news on the brain-scrambling nature of America's top sport finally got to me, as did the brain-scrambling nature of you-know-who when it came to taking a knee and the national anthem. And yet the NFL's TV audience this year is once again significantly on the rise at a moment when even hit primetime TV shows like This Is Us (which I do watch) are bleeding viewers.

I mean, I can remember attending a pro football game with my dad in snow flurries when I was no more than six or seven years old. In the summer, our family rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers, since my dad had been a Brooklyn boy, and in the winter, the Giants. That's just the way life was and, for me, that's kind of the way it remained, when it came to football, until fairly recently. This may be the first year, in fact, when I don't even watch the Super Bowl, a thought that came to mind as I read TomDispatch jock culture correspondent (and author most recently of SportsWorld: An American Dreamland) Robert Lipsyte's scathing piece today on the Trumpian nature of football in 2019.

I just wonder though: Why in the world is that audience coming back? Tom

The Six Ways Football Groomed Us for President Trump
Still Going to Watch the Super Bowl?
By Robert Lipsyte

Because everything is so Trumpian these days, there's less air or space for the only other mass entertainment that promotes tribalism and toxic masculinity while keeping violence in vogue: football.

In the age of The Donald, it's hard to remember that football was once the nation's greatest television reality show. Because real people actually got really hurt in real time, you could be sure it wasn't fake news. Now, football is just another runner-up to President Trump, whose policies actually get people killed.

And yet football is still here, in plain sight, waiting to resume its cultural dominance once Trump is gone.

To avoid any further erosion of its base, it is cosmetically modifying itself at every level with "reforms" focused on the image of increased safety. From small rural high schools to the Fifth Avenue offices of the National Football League (NFL), plans are being generated to protect America's most popular and prosperous sport from the two things that could destroy it -- the players' mortal fear of having their brains scrambled and the fans' moral fear of awakening to their complicity in such a process.

The players, mostly black and conditioned to believe football is their best ticket out of modern Jim Crow, have not yet fully awakened. But fans, despite being conditioned to believe that supporting your local team is little short of a civic responsibility, have more options. They are, after all, mostly white and not as likely to need to sacrifice their health for their short-term livelihood. There's hope that, in the end, those fans will come to understand, for example, that watching the Super Bowl is casting a vote for the values that have helped bring us the show most dangerous to our survival as a civilization, the Trump administration.

Football's Playbook

As a voter's guide, here are the six ways in which football groomed us for Trumpball and is still trying to keep us in its grasp:

1. Inflame Racial Divisions: Helping to spread America's primary disease, racism, is Trump 101, but the NFL got there first. Seventy per cent of its players are African-American. At the start of this season, only four head coaches and two general managers of the 32 teams were men of color. Only two owners were not white men: the Jacksonville Jaguars' Pakistani-American Shahid Khan and the Buffalo Bills' Korean-American Kim Pegula (a woman).

So, who would have thought that the same year -- this one! -- would mark not only the 100th anniversary of the NFL but the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans on the soil of what became the United States of America? Somehow, neither milestone has been celebrated all that much this year -- and never together. In his indispensable book on race and sports, Forty Million Dollar Slaves, former New York Times columnist William Rhoden maintains that, by cutting off black athletes from their history and communities, the sports industry has managed to control them. "The power relationship that had been established on the plantation," he wrote, "has not changed even if the circumstances around it have."

To make sure the NFL owners would stand firm against players kneeling during the national anthem, President Trump called Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to say, according to a sworn deposition given by Jones and reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, "Tell everybody, you can't win this one. This one lifts me."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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