Dean Clough

January 4, 2023

Portico Darwin: The Final Nail?


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If you watched this past Monday night's football game, you already know about this.  If not, you should be aware a player very nearly died on the field of cardiac arrest after a violent hit, but was brought back to life via CPR over several minutes.  As I write this early on Wednesday PST, the player, 24 year old Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin, is in critical condition and still may not make it.  If he does, he may never be the same again. 

Our thoughts and prayers hearts and minds are of course with this young man and his family.

But I am hopeful this horrendous event signals the beginning of the end of American football.  Because I've had it with the violence.  I've had it with the NFL being a poster child for everything that's wrong with American capitalism.  I've had it with it being a cover for a massive sports gambling industrial complex.  I've had it with money ruining every scintilla of what used to be meaningful about College Football.  And I've had it with very experienced and respected black people somehow almost always finishing second for head coaching jobs. 

That is why I want American football, in both its NFL and college guises, to go the way of boxing and horse racing in this country.

Yes, my hypocrisy runs deep.  Like many of my peers, I was indoctrinated as a child; indeed, I grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan.  And I was cheering on "my" 49ers just this past Sunday, and was rooting for my quasi-hometown Bills on Monday - before Hamlin almost died. 

Worse, I had already pulled the NFL plug once, years ago, after the initial concussion revelations.  The woeful treatment by the league of Colin Kaepernick and its blind eye to domestic violence didn't help much at the time, either.   

But:  my Niners got exciting again, it's fun hanging out with friends watching games, and I love Buffalo wings.  So back I went.

Now, I am out again, and I feel it might be for good this time.  Perhaps you will join me in putting American football in our collective rear-view mirror?

There is absolutely nothing new about someone getting seriously hurt on the football field.  I remember Daryl Stingley of the Patriots being rendered a quadriplegic from a hit.  Those of us of a certain age will never forget Joe Theismann's broken leg, and for those not so old, Alex Smith's.   

But the fact is, players are drastically bigger, faster, and more agile then ever before, so the violence and the damage from it is only getting worse.  No amount of padding or rule tweaking is going to change that.  And I have barely mentioned the elephant in the room:  chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
The NFL for years simply swept concussions under the rug, until it couldn't.  Getting slammed in the head with tremendous force, over and over, and across many years, isn't good.  There's a shocker.  CTE is a degenerative disease of the brain that results from that repeated trauma. 

One needs to simply look at the list of CTE-afflicted players to understand the magnitude of the problem.  Go read the Aaron Hernandez story.  Or you could just watch Tua Tagovailoa's brain getting damaged in real time.

Or consider Junior Seau.  One of the league's all-time greatest and most beloved players, he committed suicide at age 43 because he could handle CTE and its effects no longer. 

He was not the only one.

The NFL Machine
Is there a shittier company in this country?  Extorting civic funds for new stadiums for billionaire team owners.  Message control that would make Joseph Goebbels proud.  And harboring owner scum like Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones and Marc Davis:  the ownership group is a veritable rogue's gallery. 

And then there's NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell himself, a model of competent organizational governance and stakeholder capitalism.   Said absolutely nobody, ever.


I am old enough to remember how the NFL hesitated for decades putting a team in Las Vegas, over fears of gambling infecting the sport.  Heck, it was controversial when Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder did point spreads on the CBS pregame show in the 1970s.

Now, I am not naïve - in Albany, NY where I grew up (also in the 1970s), betting on a game was as close as the nearest pizza joint or billiard parlor or Knights of Columbus hall.  These were everywhere as a kid, although the production values weren't as high.  "Turning in your sheet" was a weekly ritual for many.

Still, there was at least a veneer of propriety and an indication that the NFL, while tolerating gambling, wasn't an active participant.  In just a few short years, that's all gone right out of the window. 

We now have the Las Vegas Raiders, Jamie Foxx pumping NFL wagering via BetMGM, and a non-stop barrage of FanDuel and DraftKings advertisements.  All with the full-throated endorsement of the NFL.

I am no puritan, and have a vice or two myself.  But betting on games is not a productive endeavor, and while fleetingly entertaining, it has brought ruin to many.  The NFL being an equal partner in the sports gambling industrial complex is wrong.

Money (See College Football, Destruction Of)
I've watched with growing disdain as what was once a largely innocent national treasure - College Football - has been expanded and distorted into such a form as to be nearly unrecognizable.  It is now a money- and hype-making engine second only to the NFL.  What were once classic bowl games that celebrated friendly rivalries between conferences and colleges and their towns have become NFL playoff and Super Bowl facsimiles.  The College Football Playoff system, soon to expand further, has permanently ruined bowl games.

The whole thing went to 11 with the Name/Image/Likeness thing.  College football (and basketball) players at the athletic powerhouse schools, fed up with coaches and athletic departments and everyone else making kijillions on their labor and expertise, turned it around with what's referred to as NIL.  The players can now profit from their participation in collegiate athletics by selling their name, image, and/or likeness to anyone that will buy it.

While seemingly the right thing to do, I think paying players via NIL is the wrong approach.  Instead, let's revert sports to their rightful place on university campuses:  as a diversion from the hard work of educating oneself.

But I fear College Football is almost as irredeemable as the NFL.  Most major programs have been corrupted by money and have forgotten why they exist in the first place.

Where Are the Black Head Coaches?
Deion Sanders at my alma mater not withstanding, this whole thing disgusts me.  It has been going on for years, and if anything, I think it's gotten worse:  head coaching positions in the NFL and at major colleges just never quite seem to go to black candidates.  This in a sport where the majority of players are black themselves.

The most recent example?  A white guy with zero big-time coaching experience, Jeff Saturday, is hired by the Colts?  While a guy like Eric Bieniemy (another Colorado Buffalo, BTW) waits his turn, year after year?

Now:  I believe that an organization can hire anyone it chooses.  In fact, I am opposed to affirmative action and rail against what I call psycho wokeness.  In any given situation, the white man or woman may be the better choice for the team.  But not almost every single time.

So is this the final nail in the coffin for football as we know it in America?  No, probably not.  It's too huge.

But then again, so was boxing and horse racing.  Times do change.

And me?   I want to not watch.  The whitewash on this awful Hamlin incident makes it even worse, if that's possible.  If you don't believe me, watch the NFL pusher James Brown the day after.  Watching him carry the NFL's (very dirty) water makes me sick.  Pro Tip:  when someone says "I'm not a shill for the NFL" - they're a shill for the NFL.

Yet I fear my Niners may go quite far, and I love jumping on an SF team's bandwagon.  But I still want to not watch.

Indeed, I believe it's time for us all to get off football's bandwagon.  Because the bandwagon is in a long funeral procession, of players taken down by a game.


I love it when something I envisioned as fantasy becomes reality.  This is from The Economist just this week:
The EU was reported to have offered free covid-19 vaccines to China to help manage the vast outbreaks that surged as it relinquished its covid-zero policy. Officials from the European Commission told the Financial Times that it would contribute variant-optimised doses to supplement China’s response, which relies on less-effective Chinese vaccines. The WHO has deemed the country’s vaccination coverage insufficient.

Now, if my fantasy regarding American football fading way would only come true . . .

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


Here is "Karma Police", by Radiohead, from OK Computer, a Diamond Certified masterpiece of an album.

(Above is the great Alex Smith.  His leg nearly had to be amputated after this play.  It was also 33 years to the day after Joe Theismann's equally horrific injury.  Enough already.)

About Dean Clough