War on Football. Those three words are about as inflammatory as it gets in modern American society. Everything is a war. Every group feels under attack. And football is the nation’s IV drip on Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. Don’t you dare take that away.
That’s the problem with Danny Kanell’s original position this week, which to be fair, he has softened on. There is no War on Football, it’s just a perfectly constructed phrase in its five-alarm howling. It can be hashtagged, splashed on screen in graphic form, repeated endlessly inside the internet echo chamber. War on Football. I mean, you have to hand it to him. It’s pretty perfect. I kinda wish I had thought of it.
I’ve met Kanell, and he seems like a good guy. We both worked at WQAM in Miami a few years ago. I once told him a story about how my parents bought me his Giants jersey for Christmas when I was in high school. I politely told them, “Mom, Dad, thank you. But we’re gonna have to exchange this. He’s not gonna be in this league long.” I returned it for a Robert Brooks’ Packers jersey. Kanell laughed when I told him.
I’ve got nothing personal against Kanell, and even he admitted this week to the New York Daily News, “it was probably a little bit of hyperbole.” In many ways it opened up the topic of player safety at all levels yet again. That’s never a bad thing. The problem is these types of instantly flammable words and ideas tend to catch fire, and poison the discussion. That’s what happened this week.
It fits this narrative that in a politically correct world yet another piece of good ol’ fashioned Americana was being snatched by the wussification crowd. And football is at the emotional crux of our country right now. But if there is a “war” or “attack” on anything sports-related it’s head trauma, not football. When MLB banned collisions at the plate, was that a “War on Baseball?” Now that headgear is mandated for some youth soccer players is that a “War on Soccer?” Head shots being eradicated by the NHL is a “War on Hockey?”
Of course not. There might be some bellyaching about over-governing, but no one frames those changes as an assault on America, because those sports don’t hold the same emotional control over us as football. Making those sports safer is seen as an evolution of the sport, not an attack on what we hold dear. I always cringe at the buzz words “war” and “attack” because it immediately taps into our ingrained human protective instincts, the fight or flight response. What happens when you’re attacked? You react. You defend. You don’t reason. You don’t think. And that’s what elected leaders and the media has taught us to do. React. Don’t think.
So politicians and political pundits have toxified the waters with this rhetoric. I keep hearing there’s a “War on Christmas,” which I suppose is because my workplace has a menorah next to the tree and my Starbucks cups don’t have Santa on them anymore. But at my local Target there were Christmas lights on display four months ago next to the Back to School gear. And some of my radio stations flipped to Christmas music the day after Halloween. And I can’t park anywhere in New York City without having half the spot taken by a sidewalk Christmas tree sale pouring into the street. So this “War on Christmas” is not winning many battles in my neighborhood.
The “War On (insert here)” is simply a way to divide us, to draw a line and put me over here and you over there. It’s irresponsible, dangerous and divisive. It’s a way for people with microphones to alarm the audience, forcing them then latch onto what we say, simply trading in people’s emotional currency. If we’re not allowed to live in a society that questions old ways of thinking, what are we? There’s a movie about the NFL’s history of head trauma, and parents are asking for more information about their kids activities, and people want to make the sport they love safer… that amounts to an attack? We can’t even do that without it being “A War?”
This imaginary War on Football is also clearly not very effective, because television ratings are booming. Stadiums are full. Franchise values are skyrocketing. Sponsors are desperate to be part of it. Networks kill themselves to land the rights. The nation is not loosening its grip on football. It’s clutching it even stronger, and not out of protection. Out of passion and interest.
Aren’t we allowed to question things we love? Aren’t we supposed to try to make good things even better? Or more importantly, solve problems that are obvious? We demand the NFL referees become better at their job. We demand GMs fire coaches that aren’t winning games. But we can’t demand more education on head trauma? More protocol in place? More advancement in safety?
When we silence or shame those who dare question convention, what are we doing? And why are we trying to create only two sides to every issue? We have divided this country into Left vs. Right. So you are either with me or against me. And we cannot let the voices that shape the debate continue with this simplistic line-drawing. If you question the safety of the NFL, it doesn’t mean you’re a front-line commander in the War on Football. It just means you have a brain and are trying to use it. And isn’t that exactly what we’re trying to protect here?
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.