Political football

Balls, pucks and monster trucks
By RICK WORMWOOD  |  September 7, 2011

Sadly, the only upcoming event with the capacity to truly inspire hope for millions of Americans, the start of the 2011 NFL season, will be twice marred by our current political culture and media. First, the season opener became a tool in the political brinksmanship that has flourished in Washington lately, and then, later, Sunday's slate of games will provide set dressing for a media-driven agitprop anniversary pageant. It's going to be nauseating.

This started when President Obama (the worst negotiator since Neville Chamberlain) asked to address Congress on Wednesday night to lay out his long-awaited jobs plan, but the timing conflicted with a Republican presidential candidates debate, so House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said no, and then offered Thursday. Never before, in the history of the republic, had a president wishing to address Congress been rebuffed. By setting such an odious precedent Boehner looked petty. By acquiescing, President Obama looked weak, again.

And Boehner played Obama, whose speech faces real competition on Thursday night television. The last two Super Bowl champions will meet in that first regular-season contest, with Obama scheduled to speak at 7 pm Eastern Time, half an hour before NBC's pregame coverage starts. Professional football is the true American pastime. The NFL has the most passionate and devoted fans of any sports league; they are a sports/entertainment juggernaut, and a president discussing serious issues the same time as they open for business will be ignored by far too many.

Nobody in Wisconsin will watch him, that's for certain. Wisconsinites won't focus on potential Washington programs (which Congressional Republicans will never pass anyway) while so many questions surround the Green Bay offense. Last season's champs, the Packers, ranked 24th in rushing yards per game. If they hope to repeat, that must change. Not many Louisianans will watch, either. They're preoccupied with how the Saints will fare without Reggie Bush and Jeremy Shockey; with wondering if rookie Mark Ingram could become their first true threat at running back since Deuce McAllister. Fantasy football devotees (and that's millions and millions of people) are pondering these questions, too. None of them will be watching Obama.

And as if that wasn't enough to spoil a joyous annual occurrence, the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 will be everywhere America looks all week, finally culminating on the first Sunday of the regular season with the anniversary itself. As that day's games kick off, when happy football fans should instead be focusing on offensive lines collapsing on quarterbacks, film of collapsing skyscrapers will be ubiquitous. Pat Tillman's sad story will be told, again.

That's all going to suck. An event as historic and terrible as 9/11 will always be noted, and I respect Tillman's sacrifice, but I also know that the media will report the 9/11 anniversary at least as relentlessly as it did last month's hurricane, and that will suck even worse. Articles and TV specials will spell out how 9/11 ignited a decade of war and panic, but the disastrous after-effects of 9/11 are still present enough in our society that I honestly feel like a week of solemn editorializing and special programming is unnecessary. Does that make me an asshole? If so, I don't care. I just want to watch football, without all of this year's ancillary political bullshit.

Warren G. Harding won the first presidential election after what was then called "The Great War" by promising a "return to normalcy" — by which he meant, America should get back to how the country was before World War I. We should try some version of that post-bellum idea again. It's time.

Rick Wormwood can be reached at rumblingp@gmail.com.

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