Thursday, October 11, 2012


This video has been frequently commented upon in the fallout of the Matt Cassel cheering scandal. (For those who don't know: Matt Cassel of the Kansas City Chiefs suffered a concussion in a game last week, and it seemed as though the fans--the Kansas City fans--cheered, celebrating Cassel's injury.) But tied into Eric Winston's "disgust" at the fans' reaction is his consent to be subject and actor of intense physical violence that will likely reduce his and his fellow players lifespans.

Adults are free to make choices that put their lives in jeopardy. And, in a game like football, where consent is implied in the contracts signed by the players, it seems permissible, if a little strange, for adults to make choices that put other adults' lives in jeopardy.

Cassel's speech invokes some pretty difficult stuff--he insists, twice, that football players are not gladiators. But at the same time he acknowledges that he is risking his life, or his quality of life, to play football. Without spectators his choice to play football as he knows it is not possible. I would argue that the difference between football players (or maybe all professional athletes) and gladiators is one of expectation. Football players and gladiators both enter an arena where the rules of society are nullified and new, less restrictive rules are imposed. Both use their bodies and tools to inflict violence on their opponents as a necessary condition of "winning". The difference is that we expect all the players to survive the football game. We only expect to see horrible season-ending or career-ending injuries in every football game.

Violence is part of the appeal of football. What Eric Winston is disgusted by is not physical violence, but a sort of existential violence. Even though football is violence, and he can expect his body to be harmed by it, he doesn't want to accept that this is what fans like about it. But isn't this what it means to "sacrifice the body for the team"?

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