Not even Kobe Bryant's mouth, Barry Bonds testicles or Donald Trump’s hair managed to distract me from my current major dread, the looming winter without pro football. I’m afraid the cancellation of the season is a possibility.
We’re in a time when rich old white men want to bust unions and assert their waning power. Few NFL owners need their teams to make money. They need them to flex their egos. Letting a troop of jocks push them around is not good for owners' egos.
At the same time, players sense that the blood in the water may be their own. An average career of less than four years with a 100 percent injury rate and the prospect of early dementia and death may not be a risk worth taking for more games and less money.
Kobe, Barry and the Donald were not only failures as distractions, they stimulated my dread. Consider their connections to the end of football.
Kobe’s use of a gay slur to express his rage at a referee (among major media outlets, only the Los Angeles Times had the grit and sense to remind us what we had heard and lip-read on TV, an expletive followed by the word “faggot”) was yet another symptom of how unsure big-time athletes are about their masculinity. Why was that the worst word he could come up with?
Remember how football players freaked when Esera Tuaolo, a 300-pound veteran of nine years on the NFL offensive line, came out several years ago? Sterling Sharpe seemed to be speaking for them when he said a gay teammate would be run off the team lest your friends and family think you were gay, too. Huh?
Didn’t you think football was the final frontier in American Macho? It’s our only violent pastime with no women allowed. Even boxing and military combat pour estrogen. I kept thinking, without football we might just be on the way to unmanning America altogether.
Barry made me nervous for different reasons. I’ve been fuming over the possibility that our taxpayers’ dollars, after paying for his useless investigation and trial, would have to pay for shrinking his head back to size and enlarging his steroid-shriveled testicles (although they seemed to mostly work while he was cheating on his two wives with his snitch girlfriend, as well as on her).
I believe that performance-enhancing drugs are a much greater factor in the football game plan than we have been led to believe. Combined with the long-term side effects of head trauma, we may be in for a complex epidemic. I wonder if all these politicians with their healthcare-reform programs have the same idea: A year without the NFL—and why not cancel all football from PeeWee through college?—might just create a time of healing and cleaning. What else would you expect from people who consider overcrowded hospitals worse than empty stadiums?
If I didn’t think the Donald was the ultimate loose cannon, I’d worry that he was the front man for a capitalist conspiracy to wreck a socialist organization, in this case the NFL. The League is run for billionaires, much like China. Commissioner Roger Goodell reminds me of the wily apparatchiks I interviewed in Beijing, taking the flak for his Communist Party bosses, spouting ideology while keeping his eye on the bottom line.
Like the ChiCom officials, the NFL owners live fat on the masses, who also are stirring toward rebellion. Prices are going up and salaries are going down while the worth of franchises keeps rising.
Enter Trump, brilliantly auditioning for Goodell’s job by pretending he’s interested in a lesser job—president of the United States. Trump is the kind of man who both owners and players like to jocksniff around, a bigger, more shameless celebrity than any of them.
Why would he want the job? For the same reason we dread the dead season—football is the last chance this shaky empire has of asserting its manhood. Commissioner Trump would be Mr. Man, bigger than Kobe or Barry or even Michael Vick, whose future has me on the edge of my seat. I’d hate to miss Vick next season.
Owners and players are perfectly capable of ruining The Game without any help, inadvertent or otherwise, from outside agitators. But those wild cards can only help push us into that bleak approaching apocalypse in which wonks will go quietly insane and players will rage through the streets.
Longtime New York Times columnist Robert Lipsyte is the author of An Accidental Sportswriter: A memoir, due in May from Ecco.