The Super Bowl – a reflection of a violent America

First things first – I’m not nor have I ever been a football fan. I prefer baseball, basketball, and golf. I watch the Super Bowl, sometimes. I played flag football in junior high school and liked that as a 13 year-old, but that was then – a long time ago and I was a kid.

I watch the Super Bowl mostly because there’s so much media hype before it, the advertisements are expensively and creatively produced (most of the time), and the half-time entertainment is cutting-edge, high octane, and extravagant.

I watched the first half of the game (uneventful), the last couple of minutes (conclusive), half-time (I’m not the demographic but I was impressed by the performers’ talent), and the commercials (ho-hum). Generally speaking, I was bored and felt I had wasted my time.

The good thing (probably the only good thing) was that people of color and the diversity that is America was well-represented in the pre-game and half-time events and the teams themselves.

Gladys Knight, at 75 years of age, sang the National Anthem. She still has her chops. Her voice is beautiful and she sang with dignity and grace.

No NFL player dropped to his knee, but I noticed that many of the black players brought both hands to the top of their uniform rather than place their right hands over their hearts. Was that coordinated as a new protest against unfair and violent police treatment of black men?

Throughout, I sat thinking about the Super Bowl as a phenomenon of contemporary American cultural values and society. It is arguably the most watched athletic event in the country.

So much associated with the NFL and football – and here’s the main point of my rant – run counter to the values that I live by as a Jew.

The game focuses on celebrity. The game is controlled violence. There are “offensive” and “defensive” teams. It’s played on a “gridiron” or a “field of battle.” The quarterback is protected by “guards.” The long pass is a “bomb.” When the ball is snapped there’s “mayhem,” “aggression,” “brutality,” and “hostility,” ending in a pile-up of bodies. The action is “rough” and “frenzied.” The most ferocious lineman is a “menace” when he “sacks” the quarterback. Teams make “disastrous” plays and commit “fouls.” There are “illegal procedures” and “penalties.” Players are “hostile,” motivated by “ire” and “retaliation.” In the process, many are “maimed,” suffer “injury,” “fractured limbs,” and “brain damage.” To go out there even with protection is “dangerous.” The losing team is “beaten” and the winner is the “victor” reminding me of the gladiators of the ancient world.

This is the language of warfare. When I was young, Pop-Warner football attracted boys between the ages of 12 and 14, the age that kings conscripted soldiers in the ancient world. Alexander the Great was only 21 years-old when he conquered all of Europe and Asia. His soldiers were kids by today’s standard. What does it say about an entire culture that is mesmerized by a game of organized violence as we Americans are?

One truth is that human beings are potentially violent creatures, and though today there are fewer wars in the world between nations (terrorist groups are non-state based) than at any time in the last two centuries, there’s still a deep-seated need to be and celebrate violence. The number of millions of guns owned by Americans is a sign of this proclivity to protect ourselves against a violent world.

Lewis H. Lapham, a writer and the long-time editor of Harper’s Magazine (b. 1935-), put it well when he wrote: “A society that presumes a norm of violence and celebrates aggression, whether in the subway, on the football field, or in the conduct of its business, cannot help making celebrities of the people who would destroy it.”

I probably won’t watch the Super Bowl next year as a protest against the violent values it represents that don’t represent me.

About the Author
A native of Los Angeles, Rabbi John L. Rosove assumed the position of Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood in 1988 and will become Emeritus Rabbi in July, 2019. Before coming to Temple Israel he served large congregations in San Francisco (1979-86) and Washington, D.C. (1986-88). He is the immediate past National Chair of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) and served on the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the Vaad HaPoel of the World Zionist Organization, and the Executive Committee of ARZENU (the International Reform Zionist movement). He is a national co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street. John is the author of "Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove" (Nashville: Jewish Lights, 2017) and his forth-coming book "Why Israel and its Future Matter - Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation" (Ben Yehuda Press, New Jersey. Spring 2020). John is married to Barbara and is the father of two sons and the grandfather of one.
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