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Nathan Hegedus

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Fandom, Fathers and the Violence of Football

Posted: 03/21/2012 6:45 pm

My daughter is a die-hard fan of AIK soccer here in Stockholm. She is five. I have never mentioned AIK, except in relation to their stadium, which is in our town. But she picked up AIK fever at preschool, even though she has no idea about the reality of AIK soccer. She just loves the black and gold and knows that they "win a lot" (this is debatable). You can probably read in between the lines my ambivalence. I am not an AIK fan. I am a fan of other, American teams. I appreciate much of AIK's history and the devotion of the fans and their association with our town. I do not like the hooligans, who piss outside our window and drink in our park and once rioted (really) right outside my sleeping childrens' window.

I also think soccer is boring. I do not like that her sports world is not revolving around me. This is what I get for swearing off watching sports on TV.

Still, this makes me think what I do want her to like. Baseball? Definitely. Basketball? Absolutely, and this is the local sport I push the most. American football? Oooh, I get tortured. I still can't shake football or my love of the Buffalo Bills, and I definitely do not want my son to play. But can I replace the Bills with AIK?

Should I Quit Watching Football For My Kids?: OK, I wrote this story back in 2010. And it led to a radio profile on The Story from American Public Media. Everything still holds here, however, on my ambivalence about the nature of football's violence, its culture and the concussions. How can I even watch the NFL now that we know about the concussions? I don't know. Now I feel bad.

The Saints, Head-hunting, and (another) disaster for the NFL: I feel less bad after I read this by Charles Pierce. At least I am trending the right direction. I, too, feel the slow slide of football away from the realm of baseball and basketball and more towards boxing. It may take decades, but I'm not sure the hyper-controlling NFL can put the concussion genie back in the bottle. And I really don't think they'll build helmets that solve the problem, at least fast enough.

"For years, sensitive people in and out of my business drew a bright moral line between boxing and football. Boxing, they said, gently stroking their personal ethical code as if they were petting a cat, is a sport where the athletes are deliberately trying to injure each other. On the other hand, football is a violent sport wherein crippling injuries are merely an inevitable byproduct of the game. I always admired their ability to make so measured -- and so cosmetic -- a moral judgment. This was how those sensitive people justified condemning boxing while celebrating football, and, I suspect, how many of them managed to sleep at night after doing so."

How We Become Sports Fans: The Tyranny of Fathers: This is the article that makes me feel worst about my kid's AIK fascination. As a sports-loving dad, I am supposed to be dominant here. And my daughter does say she likes the Bills "too." And while I picked up my father's love of football, I did not pick up his team (Detroit). I went for Buffalo, where we lived. In fact, I did this about when I was five. But I don't even like soccer! Ahhhhh.

But, wait, maybe it's a good thing she likes AIK. Maybe it means she doesn't need to bond with me over sports. Because we bond over doing goofy dances together instead...

"Dads are more emotionally remote than moms, except when they're watching sports, and that's the crack in the ice that kids naturally choose to exploit. If Dad laughs, cries and high fives about the Red Sox, his kids are going to use the Red Sox to laugh, cry and high-five with him."

Do Sports Build Character?: The big money question. Does all our sports obsession mean anything? Are we kidding ourselves that we are somehow tapped into the Greek ethos, the YMCS ethos, of building character through sport? This is a long, rambling article, but at least it is asking the question, one that we don't usually even dare to bring up in American pop culture.

And, heck, he features Plato and Lawrence Taylor extensively. Got to appreciate that, even with a wishy-washy conclusion that Plato and LT would knock off the field.

"In Plato's spirit, one must give the thymotic drives of the soul full recognition and reasonable play, but at the same time keep them in check. This is an ideal -- Hector's ideal, we might call it -- and it is not impossible to attain. But there is something in the drive for glory that despises all reflection. A certain sort of glory-seeking must in fact overcome reflection, as Achilles shows, and go headlong. So sports will always be a world of danger, as well as one rich with humane possibility."
 

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