The Death of The NFL: A Rite of Passage into Manhood
By Ryan Felman
This Jason Witten presentation shows in 4 minutes, why so many men love football and why they are sad to watch the sport die. And it is dying. And maybe that’s ok. It is barbaric, and it is taking lives far too young. But the NFL allowed itself to sacrifice morality for higher ratings and it dug its own grave.
The league punished Tom Brady for lying about deflating footballs in the playoffs for 4 games while only punishing Ray Rice for 2 games when he knocked out his fiancé and dragged her out of the elevator. They ruined the integrity of the game by penalizing defensive backs for barely touching a receiver in an obvious ploy to make games higher scoring as this is what the fans wanted. The corruption of the NFL seemed to mirror the corruption of Western politics as there were backdoor deals where clear favoritism is shown by Commissioner Goodell. The league abandoned its core fans and began to virtue signal by raising breast cancer awareness with pink jerseys that promoted an obvious illness, yet raised virtually no money for the cause. It is only a thinly veiled attempt to gain more female viewers and to sell female merchandise because women are more profitable consumers than men.
Yet despite all these sins, the league seems to be falling apart for the most asinine of reasons. A shitty quarterback from San Francisco began a movement by taking a knee during the national anthem. This contagion spread like a virus to other teams and other players. Suddenly America’s pastime and weekend escapism for families nationwide was polluted with the political ills and divisiveness gripping this nation. The irony of the whole debacle is that this could have been avoided if the league hadn’t grown so greedy, but they couldn’t resist grabbing more money. It wasn’t until 2009 that the NFL began to regularly show its players during the National Anthem. Before that, they would remain in the locker room. You see, there is a deeper reason why promoting the national anthem is so important to the NFL, and it’s the same reason why a league that talks about kids staying active 60 minutes a day, paradoxically will so heavily promote drinking shitty light beers and eating pizza.
Here’s the real dirty piece that gets glossed over because this nation likes to conflate supporting soldiers with military worship. One is a noble cause with relatable and often related brothers and sisters. The other a giant behemoth whose true purpose often lends to corporate interest more so than national protection. The Department of Defense is using US taxpayer dollars to fund recruitment techniques via patriotism in NFL games, including flyovers, camo sports merchandise and of course, everyone’s favorite athletes standing for the National Anthem.
Now I should point out here that I for one always stand for the anthem, and have always loved this country, even though I often question the government in charge. That being said, one of my favorite rights in America is that we are legally allowed to burn the US flag. Did you do a double take on that one? Yes, I am in favor of this right, not because anyone should ever do it, but because the right to burn the American flag only cements this country as the greatest nation of the world. You can be mad and take to the streets to scream about fascism, all that you want, but when no one comes to take you away, it leaves the protests falling on deaf ears. Following that logic, I respect the right to not stand for the national anthem on a personal level, but the NFL painted themselves into a corner with this one. Had they not grown so greedy in leaching after every corporate sponsor, then they never would have stooped so low as to use taxpayer dollars to support the indoctrination of today’s youth into joining the military. The national anthem is fine, but leave the players in the locker room, or it is simply pandering to the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about.
The decline of the NFL has been a rather sad spectacle to behold. As a full-grown man, I have outgrown the league, but will likely follow my team to some degree. I just will no longer devote my entire weekend to watching grown men exercise while drinking beer and eating chicken wings every weekend for 20 weeks of the year. I have better things to spend my time on. Like exercising myself and spending more time outdoors, hiking or biking with my family.
It is sad to watch because, like many other red-blooded Americans, I have so many fond memories of watching the NFL with my father. I spent 5 years of my youth playing football from eighth grade to high school and learned so many great lessons in those years. It literally shaped me into who I am as a person. I grew up playing basketball and at 14 decided I was going to join the football team, and it felt like a rite of passage. I had something to prove to my teammates, my coach, and to myself. I wasn’t very big yet, but I was used to running and would push myself to show my teammates that I could take a hit and laugh it off. Because the new kid in football always takes a beating. That is how men prepare each other for the big game; by doing you a favor and kicking your ass a little bit when it doesn’t matter so that you will be prepared. So, I took my hits, gave out some hits, and outran just about everyone on the team, minus the running backs and receivers. I was destined to be a lineman, so this was a feat in itself. One coach said something that stuck with me. He told my father who later told me, “I would take 11 of your son if I could.” When you don’t know if you can even play football, to hear something like that is motivating. Of course, I made the starting lineup and I learned a huge lesson in life. You work harder than the guy next to you, and you get his job. Life really is that simple. Everything I did was to make sure I was stronger than whoever came after my job and I defended it every day.
In high school I practically lived in the weight room, because I loved football, so I devoted my time to ensuring I could protect my teammates, and that meant beefing up. It took a lot of hard work and dedication to go from basketball to football, as the games are very different. Where basketball was about cardio above all else, football was all about quick sprints, explosiveness and strength. And if you never played football before, it is amazing how cerebral the game can be so I had a ton to learn. At 15 when I started high school, I weighed 145 pounds and was in great shape, but needed to pack on muscle to survive high school football, so I hit the weights as often as I could. Pretty much 5 days a week with one day often going to straight cardio; usually pickup games of basketball. Life lesson: if you dedicate yourself to a cause, you can transform your life.
When I started my first game as a senior, I was up to 185 pounds and was the blindside, offensive tackle. This meant that I was entrusted in protecting our quarterback’s back, his blindside. That quarterback is a friend to this day, so it was a job that I didn’t take lightly. Another life lesson: brotherhood and long-lasting friendship are forged when men struggle together for a mutual cause. On occasion I played defensive end too, as I was either stronger or quicker than almost every fat lunk I went up against. Another life lesson: I always have strived to be stronger or quicker than anyone I may run into whether in football or on the street. Train to be harder to kill. The secret to gaining weight is to work your ass off in the gym religiously and to eat a lot. If you are that small, don’t overthink it. Eat good natural food in high amounts. During this phase of my life, I ate a lot of red meat, potatoes and veggies. My drink was either milk or a Slimfast. I ate a meal replacement drink with my meal, and my meals were enormous. I would regularly eat two burgers for a meal. When you work out that hard, it is truly stunning how much you can consume. There are some positive benefits to two-a-days, not that kids today would appreciate a tough workout.
Four years of pure dedication and grit, while many boys are off chasing girls or playing video games, I was achieving excellence and learning a surprising amount about life. The second game of my senior year, I learned another tough lesson. I sprained my ankle in the second quarter. I was not ready to miss a single game and the first words out of my mouth to the trainer was, “Will I seriously hurt myself or can I still play?” He responded with, “You won’t be able to heal until you get off it, but you won’t do further damage.” I didn’t hesitate, “Tape it up.” I played the rest of the year with a bad ankle that I couldn’t move and it constantly hurt. Another life lesson: a man is resilient.
The last life lesson may have been the most important, yet hardest to swallow. Our football program was new and no one respected us… until we started winning and knocking people on their backs. We were the soft kids from the rich school who were too small for football. My senior year, our team had a winning record and established the school as a worthy opponent. On our last game, we went up against our rival, a town 7 miles from us. All we had to do to make playoffs was to beat them, and we lost by a single point, going for 2 on what would have been a game winning touchdown. As we sat in the locker room forever, I had a moment of clarity. I saw grown men crying. I saw men hugging. I saw men being men. We had been through a lot together and a few of us recognized that sometimes life knocks you down despite all the effort your put in. All those tough practices and afternoons in the gym don’t guarantee victory. But the important lesson to remember was that together, we all became stronger for our efforts and despite being a fun game, football is just a game. It is not real life and there are far more important pursuits in life. I look at the people I played this game with and today they all have grown into successful men in their own ways. Many of them have families now. Most of them are still in athletic shape and seem fulfilled in their life choices. Football is about so much more than what happens on that patch of grass. It is a shared cause where a tribe of men can forge themselves into iron and toughen themselves for a life that can be harsh, unfair and cruel. It is a rite of passage for boys to become men, but it’s not the only rite of passage. There are others, but it is still sad to wait to see what will come of the CTE study for I fear it may be the final nail in the coffin of a great American pastime.
This may be beating a dead horse, but society really is growing softer as it has become overly sensitive and concerned with safety. I’m too old to talk about “back in my days,” but we didn’t complain about hard work or rough conditions half as much as you hear now. If you weren’t tough enough for football, other kids let you know by knocking you on your ass a couple times. Life lesson: learn how to take the hit and get back up and fight. Times are really good; even if you don’t agree with my sentiment. Our civilized world has never been easier or fuller of safety nets. And yes, it is great that we can take care of those who need help, but we have fostered a culture of entitlements. The fact that football is under attack and likely dying, is a sign of who controls our culture. I’ll leave you all with this locker room tirade by Kansas City Chief’s Eric Winston talking about the long lasting ramification of this game. Men love to challenge themselves and occasionally that means facing danger, injury and even death. Ultimately, a life without some risks, is a life not worth living.
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