One of the biggest knocks against American football by non-fans is that it promotes violence. While I don’t totally agree with that assessment, there is no getting around the fact that football is violent. There is hitting, blocking, tackling, all in the service of furthering a goal or stopping the other team from achieving theirs. For me and most of the people I know who have played the game, football is about channeling the aggression that already exists, not furthering aggression. I’d always been taught that hitting someone on the controlled environment of a football field lessened the chances of me hitting people in a less controlled environment like a classroom, my house, or a street corner. I guess I still believe that to some extent. America has a shameful hypocrisy around violence. When the ratings for TV shows and films are generated, warnings are far more likely to be due to sexuality than violence. I wonder how many murders I had seen on TV or in movies before I had seen my first sex scene. I’m guessing that number would terrify me. You can build any number of “child-friendly” franchises around the idea of war and violence. Almost everything I watched as a kid had guns in it. Almost all of my toys came with guns, the only exceptions being my toys that were guns. But it is different when it is on TV, right? And its different when you’re part of team, be that for a sport or the military. Football was seen as one of the suitable ways of channeling all the aggression I had absorbed for as long as I can remember.
I awoke, as most of you did, to the news about Las Vegas. 50 plus murdered, hundreds injured by a man with a cache of weapons who decided to use them on the innocent attendees of a music festival. We universally agree that this was violence gone awry. The disagreements come in those rare moments that we start to think about solutions. For some, the idea that this man should not have had access to the kind of weaponry that he had seems obvious. For others, that is a conversation nonstarter. The conversations about mental illness would be welcomed if they were followed by a commitment to make navigating the mental health care system more efficient and affordable. I say, as someone who has mental health issues and a pretty high level of privilege, the mental health care system in this country is neither efficient or affordable. Some will say you can’t do anything about these kinds of things because sin will always exist in the human heart. Those people seem unwilling to explore how much damage a sinful heart can do when it has limited access to assault weapons. Personally, I am firmly entrenched in my camp: guns are bad and nobody’s life would be worse off if we universally lost access to them. I get angry that people don’t see it this way. I am frustrated that people’s rights to self defense and gaming are worth more than the collective right to feel safe. I am sickened by our seemingly high tolerance for violence and death.
And yet I have to question my own tolerance for violence. This past Sunday was the first meeting of the Steelers and the Ravens. It was the first game that this boycott really hit home. I can’t remember the last time I purposefully missed a Steelers/Ravens game. So much of my bonding with Shannon has been over this game. Historically, these games have had great importance for the standing in the division and in the conference. They’re usually tight, low scoring affairs. The commentators go on and on about how physical a Steelers/Ravens game is. Some call it a “two chinstrap game”, which is highly impractical, but never mind. The point is, these games are usually violent.
Before I rail at the darkness of the world, and oh how I long to rail against that darkness, I have to turn the light on the darkness within me. Where do I tolerate violence in my own life? Where do I seek to dominate or to oppress? Where do I seek to humiliate or embarrass? Where do I seek revenge? I tolerate a fair amount of violence in my own heart and if there is to be change in this world, it must begin there.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still want to see every gun melted down and turned into tomato cages. At the very least, I want to see military grade weaponry taken out of the hands of civilians. And I’d love to see us being less fearful of our sisters and brothers so that we see less need to defend ourselves from them.
I bristle against the criticism that football is a violent game. I suppose it is because I bristle against the notion that I am a violent person, or at the very least, I am a person who enjoys violence. And yet hear I am, right now, at this moment unable to separate the violence I enjoy on Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and yes, football from the violence that has shattered people’s lives this morning. Can a nation that tolerates so much violence in its past times be anything other than a nation that tolerates violence in its communities?
One of the places where we seem to have the highest tolerance is in sexual violence and one of the places where sexual violence goes least noticed is in our agricultural system. I mentioned in my last post that I have been boycotting Wendy’s for a few years now. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is the organization that began organizing the Wendy’s boycott and they have begun a new initiative to combat sexual assault among food workers. The farms where Wendy’s has been purchasing its crops from in Mexico have numerous reports of rampant sexual abuses. A group of female farmworkers are creating the “Harvest Without Violence Mobile Museum” that they will use to shed light on the violence that exists on farms that are outside of fair food program with which Wendy’s refuses to participate. Along with their boycott, they will be protesting at Wendy’s headquarters in Columbus, OH and in New York. I take a cure from these brave women: the only way that injustices will be dealt with is if we shine a bright, glaring light on them. May we have the courage to do so in all of the places that we see people being unnecessarily harmed.