Despite his New England Patriots losing to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, Peter Beinart probably enjoyed watching the game with his son. Here is why he should skip the Super Bowl.
In his recent Atlantic column, “The Questionable Ethics of Teaching My Son to Love Pro Football,” Beinart poses a dilemma. On one hand, his eight year-old son enjoys watching football games with him, and he values both the bonding time as well as the chance to relive his own memories of watching games with his father.
On the other hand, we live after Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru authored “A League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis,” which conclusively documented the story of the discovery of the causal, widespread link between pro football and debilitating brain damage, and revealed the efforts of the NFL leadership, reminiscent of Big Tobacco, to conceal or mitigate that direct connection.
Beinart admits to being “guilt-ridden” at the thought that he derives entertainment by “watching other men pulverize their bodies and minds” for his viewing pleasure. He is also well aware of the structural classism and racism in play, noting that many pro football players are steered or incentivized towards the game by “a society that offers poor black men few other, less violent, ways to attain wealth.”
With influential personalities from former star quarterback Brett Favre to President Obama agreeing that they would not want their children involved with pro football, Beinart is probably correct when he senses that society will – and should – soon abandon pro football as it is currently constructed. He writes, “I’d like my son to one day be able to assess football dispassionately, and thus do his part to help society progress.”
However, he does not follow through. At the end of the piece, Beinart concludes that by separating his son from football fandom so he could judge the game and its fans, he’d “also be inviting him to judge me. Far easier to curl up with him for this Sunday’s AFC championship game as father and son—co-conspirators.”
Of course, his son is not a co-conspirator; he is not sharing the illicit enjoyment of a guilty pleasure. He is an eight year old boy thrilled to share quality time with his father. Indeed, raising a child as a pro football fan while being fully aware both of the long-term effects on players as well as the real social and economic issues in America that football exacerbates and symbolizes is deeply problematic. Ignoring his own critique of the NFL for the sake of a family tradition of fandom feels too similar to a parent in the 1950s taking the family out to eat in a favorite, segregated diner, all while hoping that the children will one day grow up to realize how wrong Jim Crow laws really are.
I was particularly disappointed by Beinart’s failure to act in anticipation of the values he hopes will son will grow to adopt in light of his 2012 New York Times op-ed calling for a boycott of Israel’s settlements. His was a strong, principled voice raised in protest against what he called the “non-democratic Israel” of the West Bank as opposed to the “democratic Israel” within the 1967 Green Line.
In public debates centered on his op-ed and his book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” I heard him speak passionately about the same son, who slept with an Israeli flag affixed to the ceiling over his bed. Beinart insisted that his boycott was an expression of his hope that Israel would live up to both its own stated moral standards as a Jewish, democratic state as well as those that his son, an American Jew, most likely liberal-leaning and well-educated, would one day insist upon. While bravely maintaining this position, Beinart subjected himself to several years of controversy, scorn, and a degree of ostracism from the American Jewish establishment.
Beinart is a leading Jewish voice against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, which he feels is an injustice that corrupts as much as it oppresses, corrosive both to Palestinian and Israeli society. He should be just as willing to speak out against American football culture, which is tied up so tightly with what is lately most disturbing within American culture, especially in terms of race, class, violence, crime, militarism, and unfettered capitalism. At least within the context of his own family, Beinart should be willing to do battle with the NFL for the sake of America’s fidelity to the proud liberal values he defends so passionately.
My seven year old daughter used to watch games with me every Sunday afternoon. She is probably still partial to the Giants. Even if she’s noticed that we haven’t watched any games this year, she hasn’t said anything. Beinart’s son might be a little upset if something else is on the family TV come Super Bowl Sunday, but he will learn a valuable lesson about integrity. Best of all, the Beinarts can find a new activity to enjoy together, guilt-free.