The NFL Responds to the Sandy Hook Massacre. Should We Listen?

After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the NFL and its players made an effort on Sunday to recognize the collective grief shaking the country. There was a moment of silence at all 14 NFL games in remembrance of the 26 people, including 20 children, mercilessly gunned down. Players on the New York Giants wore decals with the school's initials on their helmets. Their star wide receiver Victor Cruz paid tribute to one of fallen children, writing "R.I.P. Jack Pinto," and "Jack Pinto, my hero" on his shoes and "This one is 4 u!" on the backs of his gloves. Cruz was Pinto's favorite player and six-year-old Jack will be buried in his Victor Cruz jersey. The New England Patriots also made a statement, wearing a helmet sticker with the Newtown city seal and a black ribbon. They in addition pledged to donate $25,000 to help the each family affected by the tragedy. But it's what the Patriots didn't do that speaks volumes and perhaps says more than they intended. Normally after the team scores at home, their "end zone militia", dressed as revolutionary war soldiers, shoots 20 muskets in the air. There were no guns fired, thankfully, on Sunday night.

The NFL's intervention into this national tragedy as a voice against gun violence comes at an awkward time for the league. Just two weeks ago, Kansas City Chief's player Jovan Belcher shot and killed the mother of his two-month-old child, Kasandra Perkins before taking his own life. Belcher had an arsenal of weapons in his house, all of them - like the guns used in Newtown - legally purchased. When NBC broadcaster Bob Costas, the day after the Belcher murder/suicide, said that easy access to military-proficient guns combined with our glorified "gun culture" played a central role in this tragedy, he was derided by the Fox News crowd as a fool. Now he looks horribly prescient.

But, as we try to understand the numbing regularity of these mass shootings, there is also a question that goes beyond just gun control and mental health. Should our culture, and in particular the violence of the sports we consume, shoulder some of the blame? It’s an increasingly recognized fact that our most popular sport, football, is also our most violent. Every new study reveals that on Sundays we are watching people become mentally and physically crippled for our entertainment. In addition to the violence between the lines, this is a league that drapes itself in the trappings of war, from military flyovers before games to the constant slickly produced recruitment ads for the US armed forces.

Given all of this, can the NFL as an institution be a credible voice of peace? The answer is simply no: not even when they silence their muskets. The NFL cannot be a force for non-violence because its popularity is the perfect reflection of what we've become as a country. We are a nation that has outsourced war overseas to remote control killer drones we overwhelmingly support, private security forces we don't control, and an armed forces we barely acknowledge. Meanwhile, a host of basic freedoms have been eroded over the last decade except the freedom to arm ourselves to the teeth. We can't assemble with our neighbors in protest but we can assemble military style weapons alone in our apartments.

As we become further atomized and further desensitized to the daily violence that surrounds us, we also further worship a sports league that acts as the perfect metaphor for this state of affairs. Safely hidden under helmets for our consumption, we don't have see the glassy eyes or faces contorted with pain on the field. We also don't have to see the broken bodies and lives off the field. We just get three and a half hours of incredibly entertaining, highly commodified violence in a safely consumable package. The true costs are hidden from us until they erupt into view, as in the case of Jovan Belcher or the suicide of the great Junior Seau. Similarly, the true costs of worshiping the way of the gun are only dragged into open view when it comes home to places like Newtown, Connecticut. We don't have to see the faces or learn the names of the children killed in the drone strikes in Pakistan. We aren't asked to care about the young black teenagers who die on the corners of Chicago. No NFL player writes their names on their shoes. But now we have to look in the mirror and either reckon with what we see or recoil and turn away.

If we want to follow the example of the NFL, the answer doesn't lie on the field. Follow the example of the seven NFL players who turned in their guns to team officials the week after the Belcher shootings out of fear of what might happen if they were in the wrong state of mind or if a family member somehow grabbed a hold of their weapons. But even that is not enough. We need to throw ourselves on the machines of violence in Washington DC otherwise we are just dooming ourselves to more of the same. And the same is simply intolerable.

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So, which way is up, Zirin the Leftist hypocrite?

Quote 1: "In addition to the violence between the lines, this is a league that drapes itself in the trappings of war, from military flyovers before games to the constant slickly produced recruitment ads for the US armed forces."

Quote 2: "We are a nation [with...] an armed forces we barely acknowledge."

I'm purty sure Zirin was gritting his teeth while writing the second point, since his usual knee-jerk reaction is to blame the military (or is that what you mean by "acknowledge", Zirin?)

Fact is, I am all for mandatory conscription like they have in first world countries such as Switzerland, Greece, and -- Zirin the self-hating Jew's favorite bogeyman -- Israel, where adult males are taught to use guns responsibly, so we don't end up with mentally ill freaks like the Newtown murderer, or homeys shooting each other "on the corners of Chicago" -- (note: NOT "die on the corners of Chicago" -- nice passive voice there, Marxist Zirin, as if black male teens just happen to get a lethal case of the measles).

I, for one, look forward to seeing peacenik pansies like Zirin in camouflage.

To lead or not to lead

DZ gives evidence that the NFL is a "metaphor" for our violent culture. He provides "broken bodies and lives" and "highly commodified violence" to make his case against the NFL. But what puzzles me is why doesn't DZ take the final and actively campaign for the abolishment of football at all levels from pee-wee to the NFL. If football at all levels reflects and encourages our violent culture then let's get rid of it. And yet I haven't seen DZ take that stand.

Some critics of football like Malcolm Gladwell see the withering away of its popularity because of the concussion/violence issue. He may be right but this seems to me to be too slow and somewhat passive. I'd like to see DZ speed up the process. If he truly believes there is a viable connection between football and killer drones then it behooves DZ to state the obvious and abolish football, however,could you please wait for a couple weeks to see if my team makes the playoffs.

Reading Comprehension is Dead

In the aggressive predetermined nitpicking and word-splicing efforts of the last two commenters, Shakespeare could not have finessed an approving column.

Both have deflected and distracted from discussing legitimate issues raised in favor of a psychoanalysis of the author. Transparent trick.

Such comments kinda remind me of how Canseco's calling out rampant steroid use in baseball was widely dismissed just cuz folks didn't like the messenger...

JJ and RM have STILL lost it

Congrats, guys You've now become what you accuse others of. You can't even address the issue, so you resort to massive name-calling and missing the point. That tells me-and hopefully, everyone else in here who can THINK-that your mind is so closed, even the best locksmith can't pry it open.

Jose Canceso? What a joke you guys are...

My apologies MODI and Carl that I don't participate in your Leftist circlejerk. I thought my points were quite lucid -- Zirin contradicts himself by stating that the NFL revels in militarism yet "we are a nation that" has "an armed forces we barely acknowledge". So considering the NFL is the most popular sport in the U.S.A., how can we have an armed forces we barely acknowledge?!? Maybe in Zirin's bicoastal circles.

So, as opposed to you pansies who rush to defend Zirin -- without saying anything to rebut my arguments except making strange off-topic references to Canseco -- I am offering something PRESCRIPTIVE, which is to create a closer bond between the average American and the U.S. military with conscription. If Lanza was Israeli, Greek or Swiss, he'd be in the army right now gaining discipline and respect for his weapon, not shooting up little kids, female teachers and then himself.

And actually, Racist Moi? is damn right. I presented a PRESCRIPTIVE argument, and he's presenting a PROSCRIPTIVE argument. If the NFL is so militaristic, so uber-masculine, so anti-empathy, why not just argue to get rid of it altogether? Which Zirin does not argue for. In other words, Zirin's article is useless, as he offers nothing PROSCRIPTIVE *or* PRESCRIPTIVE, but just moans and complains that the NFL is a metaphor for the violent American culture.

However, to dittoheads like MODI and Carl, an article like this says it all. Which is, again?

JJ is wrong yet again

JJ, Zirin is saying the institution of the military is glamorized and shoved down our throats, but the actual men and women who make it up are often forgotten about. Learn to read.

JJD, etc

I don't object to compulsory military service, and people of various partisan persuasions endorse it. Many countries have it, and in the big picture, civilians hold their elected officials more accountable for military follies when they understand what's at stake. Where citizens at large have actually served, they view it as 'our' military, rather than 'the' military like it's a separate entity vaguely connected to the country.

That said, since when does military discipline or respect for the weapon preclude murder? "If Lanza was Israeli, Greek or Swiss, he'd be in the army right now gaining discipline and respect for his weapon, not shooting up little kids, female teachers and then himself."

Charles Whitman, John Allen Muhammad, and Nidal Hasan all had military service and weapons training. Whatever their reasons for killing, insufficient understanding of their weapons' capabilities was not among them. Just to preempt more guns as a solution, Hasan even chose an actual army installation, with weapons readily available, his victims better trained to use them than most. George Banks was a prison guard, which would suggest trained in lethal and nonlethal use of weapons. It's one thing to argue the merits of the right to bear arms, but we can't cop out about the risks and responsibilities of gun availability.

As for the article itself, while it would have been impolitic, maybe insensitive, the Patriots' end zone militia actually could have performed a unique public service by firing the muskets on Sunday. The vintage costumes and muskets place the 2nd Amendment in context, as it was drafted in the 1780's. Repeat firing, cartridge ammo were not available to the French infantry. A public, one man rampage as we know it would have been all but impossible when your arsenal consists of a weapon that takes over a minute to load, and with dubious accuracy or reliability. A far cry from fully automatic fire, 30-round pistol magazines, and 100-round drums.

Oh, JJ....

Devin's right. We as a people PROFESS to support the troops, but we're just as quick to forget about them when they come home instead of thanking them for their service.

Many years ago, during World War 2, the GI Bill was passed-and it helped returning veterans immensely. These days? Not so much.

And JJ: Quick history lesson. While there is compulsory military service in Israel, they have MUCH tougher standards about guns than the U.S. will ever have.

Assault weapons? Banned except for special circumstances-i.e. communal self-defense.

You're limited to one pistol, must pass physical and mental tests before you can get one, and you're limited to 50 rounds a year.

AND not every citizen can get a gun; you must have been a captain or a lieutenant colonel in the army for 2 years, or hold a similar rank in other security forces. If you live or work in the West Bank, you can own a pistol for self-defense.

One more thing: To back up Aaron's comments, don't expect Israel to create people like Whitman et al; the IDF tests 18 year olds for physical AND mental fitness before being drafted.

passive voice

jjdynomite the grammarian:

"...young black teenagers who die on the corners of Chicago."

NOT passive voice, genius.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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