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Friday, March 23, 2012

Annals of Ostracism (4)—Culture's Bounty

[a] Abundance RF
You've certainly heard of nature's bounty—an overflowing cornucopia associated not uncommonly with the New World. In a particular slice of American history, those images centered on the vast territory of the Louisiana Purchase, and not inconsiderable attention was paid to the strange and musical lands of Louisiana itself. That is where our story takes us today—to the thick stew of cultural bounty served up by a particular NFL team on the Gulf of Mexico and improbably (given the situation) known as the Saints.

As Rousseau writes of nature and culture in Emile, "Everything is good as it comes from the hand of the creator; everything degenerates in the hands of man." Wow. Jean Jacques sounds like he's been watching ESPN this week.

Natural bounty is one thing. I speak of culture and another meaning of the word "bounty" that has nothing to do with vast piles of sustenance heaved forth in loving ladles by Mother Nature and the Creator. Indeed, even Thanksgiving has little to do with this kind of bounty...other than the fact that there are three NFL games on that fourth Thursday every November (in the United States). For football fans, it is a day of bounty, and not always in the way they might have thought.
[b] Bountiful RF
You see, a dirty little reality has surfaced in the world of the National Football League. It would be a mistake in NFL circles to call the discovered bounty "a secret." Indeed, the culpability of many in the complex cultural milieu of organized football has become only too clear in the last few weeks. 

Here is the gist of it for those who are not football aficionados and have never contemplated that teams could find a way to pay their players to injure opponents. For those of us who are a little bit more cynical (and watched the travesty of the 2010 NFC Championship game, in which we were convinced that the Saints were intent on causing injury), it is proof that something is seriously wrong with the culture of tackle football.
[c] Spoils RF
So this is culture's bounty, and it is man-made in several meanings of the phrase. Only a peculiar melding of structures, events, commodities, and economics could create a bounty program designed to give your team an advantage by injuring players on another team. 

Don't get me wrong. Nature can be gruesome, and (some of it) entails equations such as "kill or be killed." The lion with a messy face is the victor that has eaten the spoils. To the jackal goes the spoilage. That's nature, and it ain't at all pretty (as we are said to say back home). Not pretty at all.

Still, only a peculiarly insidious concatenation of testosterone, competition, and shared economic advantage could create what the Saints have wrought with their bounties. You might notice that I am voicing an opinion here. I can't even fake analytical even-handedness with this stuff. I am fully on Commissioner Goodell's side on this one, and have not an ounce of pity for the players who are crying foul right now. Others have noted—with various levels of "shock"—that everybody does it, and that the punishments were too harsh.
[d] Event RF
Everybody does it. Ever heard that one before? In this case, there is, indeed, an element of truth, but I don't think it is what the apologists have in mind. The entire culture of American football is geared toward a similar kind of destructive goal (go ahead and cry me a natural watercourse, football purists). The NFL finds itself between a block and a hard hit, and is never going to be able to resolve the necessity of violence for success in this enterprise and the equally significant fact that viewers have conflicting goals. They want to win; they love "hard hits;" they don't like seeing people get hurt, losing, or cheating...usually.

It sounds like there are a number of structural, historical, and cultural matters for closer examination on another day. Football is a veritable bounty (er, bushel) of structural factors, ripe for analysis. For now, though, let's just think about ostracism. Commissioner Goodell's punishments kick out—structurally ostracize—the head coach and general manager of one of the most successful teams in the league. This isn't a lone official climbing into the sacred mountains to escape the frustrations of the official world. No, this is a Super Bowl winning coach being told that he is being suspended without pay for an entire year. He is to have no connection with the team—ostracism and the loss of several million dollars.

Now that's ostracism with a legal-economic vengeance. Let's see if the commissioner can rescue the most popular pastime in America from itself.

I wouldn't count on it.

[e] Contact RF

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