The country will not be brought down by the Islamic State or by Arab extremists; it will not be toppled by abortion or by same-sex marriages. In the future, history will tell that the U.S. defeated communism, avoided the wiles of Satan, but could not transcend its own internal contradictions.
The country will decline and fall because it observes the Roman policy of panem et circenses regarding its citizens, keeping them satiated with bread and games while its plutocrats enrich their miserable selves—even at the expense of the destruction of the planet. We no longer worship—if we ever did—at the Church of Jesus Christ. On Sundays during the season we worship at the Church of Football, and the rest of the year we follow the vagaries of football teams and their players as if we were watching the war of the final days between angelic hosts.
The NFL has its pope (the bumbling Roger Goodell), its cardinals (team owners), its vulture scribes (a brood of lawyers) and parasitical Pharisees (the “jockocracy”—this is Howard Cosell’s word—of former players and media reporters) who wax poetic about the game, its “integrity” and how much “character” it builds. In NFL mythology you find heroes and villains, demons and unlikely messiahs. But the end of the recent controversy between the NFL and the New England Patriots (“Deflategate”) has also shown that football mythology—like all mythologies—also contains its share of Tricksters (Tom Brady), Evil Geniuses (Bill Belichick) and Temples of the Anti-Christ (the Patriots organization).
Tom Brady is so good at his business that he is approaching the mythical stature of the character Jonathan E. in the science fiction film Rollerball (1975): he excels as a quarterback to the point that he is becoming bigger than the game itself. Anyone familiar with classic tragedies will recognize the next twist in the story: events will conspire to bring down the hero in his glory. Brady was suspended this week by the NFL for four games. The Patriots were fined $1 million and were deprived of two future draft picks.
Official statements regarding Brady and the Patriots’ complicity in deflating footballs reeked of abject hypocrisy. Ted Wells, investigator for the NFL, concluded in his report that Brady was “at least generally aware” of the practice. Even though it was “impossible to determine whether this activity had an effect on the outcome of games,” the Wells report continued, “each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions.” Brady will not play during the first four games of next season, but will be allowed to practice with the team and play in preseason games. The league described the incident as “conduct detrimental to the integrity of the N.F.L.”
Whatever happened to that admirable American mantra attributed to the great Vince Lombardi, but apparently also spoken by several sports coaches, Douglas MacArthur, and even John Wayne in Trouble Along the Way (1953): “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing”?