Sports reflect society, and the folly of everything America celebrates was on graphic display in Saturday night’s AFC wild card playoff.
We all get a pulpit these days, and within minutes of the Cincinnati Bengals’ implosion against the Pittsburgh Steelers, most of us piled on as if we were diving for a loose football in the end zone.
It is low-hanging fruit, but to avoid picking it gives tacit approval. We’ve done that for too long. We still accept “boys will be boys” as an explanation for ridiculous behavior. We allow foolishness in the name of entertainment. We act differently when fueled by alcohol, or by an absurd level of devotion to an officially licensed brand, than we would in any other circumstance.
Lunacy, all of it. And most of us understated the situation in the hours that followed by pointing the finger at one or two culprits above all others. We insisted that the whole mess was Vontaze Burfict’s fault. Adam Jones’ fault. Marvin Lewis’ fault. Joey Porter’s fault. The officials’ fault. Roger Goodell’s fault. The crowd’s fault.
Everything but the San Andreas Fault, which I bring up only because the real reason for this sorry scene is a seismic shift in our culture. We are all perpetrators, and all victims. When we don’t hold anyone accountable for anything, this is what we get. When we sow disrespect for authority and disregard or others’ well-being, it’s what we reap.
It shouldn’t surprise us. It shouldn’t inspire and entitle us to righteous indignation, 140 characters at a time, because frankly we all played a role in allowing it to happen.
Burfict needn’t have been in a position to try and decapitate the Steelers’ splendid receiver, Antonio Brown, in the closing seconds of a one-point game. It required somebody, or an entire front office of somebodies, to disregard the many reasonable concerns about him and furnish the opportunity. He was a first-round talent whom most NFL teams wouldn’t touch with a 50-yard pole when he was available.
Well, except the Bengals, whose chief contribution to pro football is their apparent conviction that they can rehabilitate anyone, and Lewis, who fancies himself the Jerk Whisperer. That’s the reason Jones, the criminal formerly known as Pacman, was in a position to pile stupidity upon stupidity by stomping after Steelers’ assistant coach Porter and/or an official and acquiring another needless penalty.
There are obvious reasons Burfict and Jones were on the field in that situation (even if none of us have a clue why Porter was). In America, we will give almost anyone a second, third or ninth chance to get his stuff together if he entertains us. And in the NFL, where the trend is to fire a coach if he can’t turn around a franchise’s fortunes in one or two seasons, a coach such as Cincy’s Lewis would rather go 12-4 with thugs than 6-10 with chapel service attendees.
These are signs that our priorities are warped on multiple levels, if you hadn’t noticed. Yet with all that stacked against Burfict and Jones, and despite their consistent track record of injurious, me-first posturing, I still sympathize with the men and their late-game frustration. They’re paid to excel at a game in which nobody presently appears to know the rules.
Goodell and his officials are running scared, their game beleaguered by a political and social climate in which too many influential people want us to live out our days shielded in bubble wrap. To hit or tackle anyone runs the risk of giftwrapping 15 yards to the other team and hurting your own. Standards are upheld inconsistently, almost randomly, by observers who cannot assess the contact accurately at full speed.
So fans, already jacked up on whatever chemicals they have imbibed, likely hollering the pronouns “us” and “we” about accomplishments on which they had no impact, react with predictable classlessness. They throw half-full, $9.50 beers and other blunt projectiles onto the field. They cheer when an opposing player is carted off with an injury. And we sit at home, holier-than-they, sharing social media memes in which Peyton Manning’s head is six times bigger than his torso.
We’ve all lost our minds, and by “we,” I don’t mean the Cincinnati Bengals. I mean all of us. The NFL has devolved to the level of every other train-wreck reality show with which we overly concern ourselves. It isn’t the disease. It’s a collection of symptoms, dressed in different colors so we lemmings can discern the ones we love from the ones we hate.
And then we have the nerve to wonder why our country is a hot mess.
Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @oaksie72 or like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kalleoakes.sj.