Skip to main content

Loving and hating the Super Bowl

By Gene Seymour
updated 9:48 AM EST, Sun February 2, 2014
A security guard stands in front of MetLife Stadium Saturday, February 1, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the site of Sunday's NFL championship game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. A security guard stands in front of MetLife Stadium Saturday, February 1, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the site of Sunday's NFL championship game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks.
HIDE CAPTION
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
Buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gene Seymour: Super Bowl points up how NFL's money machine mars joy of game
  • He says that and coverup of players' long-term injury make him ambivalent about football
  • Some question whether it's moral to support NFL, especially its overbearing corporate culture
  • Seymour: Can we not simply enjoy football? Big Business has overpowered the game

Editor's note: Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post.

(CNN) -- As far as I'm concerned, John Matuszak said everything there is to say about professional football back in 1979 when he was playing the role of a bent lineman in "North Dallas Forty."

Matuszak, or "Tooz" as players and fans knew him, was something of a renegade individualist in the National Football League and the movie's script gave him the opportunity to unleash a rebel yell: Embittered by his team's tough loss, and by an assistant coach's lame scolding, his character goes off on the coach, shouting at one point, "Every time I call it a game, you call it a business. Every time I call it a business, you call it a game."

Gene Seymour
Gene Seymour

And it's that very dichotomy that looms even larger during Super Bowl week. The media keep insisting there's a game being played Sunday night in New Jersey. But all anybody really cares about is the Business -- as in, the torrents of revenue being raked in from advertising (have you seen that there are now trailers---for the commercials?), the marketing, the gambling and, of course, the partying that goes on not only in New York and New Jersey in the lead-up to the Ultimate Game, but from sea to shining sea Sunday night.

Players know it, for sure—and it continues to embody my own ambivalence about American tackle football. I get caught up in the game's drama, its unexpected twists, its ongoing tension between best-laid game plans and the ever-looming potential for their disruptions. I get caught up, too, with the sideline rants, growls, collisions and screw-ups caught at varied speeds by the wizardry of NFL Films.

But while football's orchestrated aggression and violence may entertain me, my family and friends--and the rest of Living Room America—we're all newly alive to the physical and mental risks these players are taking. How does one stay passionate about football in the face of the grim, steadily mounting number of cases involving ex-players undergoing physical and mental injury and anguish over the sport's long-term effects?

In last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, author Steve Almond wondered whether it was immoral to watch and enjoy the Super Bowl while knowing full well that playing the game has caused "catastrophic brain injury ... not as a rare and unintended consequence, but as a routine byproduct of how the game is played." I've expressed similar misgivings here about the flood of disclosures about long-term injury and the manner in which the NFL tried at first to either disregard or demean this peril.

Brees: Must be flawless against Manning
Freezer bowl, how bad is it?
Super Bowl 2014 Predictions
Buyers beware of fake Super Bowl goods

It's not just the dementia, memory loss and other symptoms that cast shadows over the NFL's gaudy, golden image. This seems the right place to mention that Matuszak, who was so physically imposing as a player that he seemed invincible, died 10 years after "North Dallas Forty" was made. He was only 39 years old and his death was attributed to an overdose of prescription pain medication. Gregg Easterbrook, who publishes the weekly Tuesday Morning Quarterback column for ESPN.com, wrote this week that painkiller abuse "may be pro football's next scandal." Over time, watching these players run into each other at top speed while imagining what their minds and lives will be like 20 years afterward could finish me off as a fan.

So could the sheer fatigue of witnessing, year after year, the NFL's seemingly inexhaustible capacity for inhaling money, which only compounds its overbearing corporate culture. I already have little patience with the game's ethos as articulated in such bromides as "Doing Whatever It Takes to Win" or that deathless line that the late, exalted Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi appropriated from a John Wayne movie, "Winning isn't everything, but it's the only thing," which even Lombardi, the man for whom the Super Bowl Trophy is named, came to believe was too simplistic. Such platitudes have made tackle football a useable, if not overused metaphor for what it's like to work, live and, above all, prevail in modern corporate society.

But it's not just a metaphor. Hard-working men such as my father found release, empathy and satisfaction watching the comparably hard work of his beloved New York Giants for decades. It used to be enough for he and millions of fans over the decades of professional football history to watch skilled craftsmen ply their trade, defy the odds, impose their wills, share their joy and passion. It'd be nice, too, if somewhere in the hype and hysteria, we could all calm down enough to see the Super Bowl in such elemental terms.

But as near as I can tell, it's the Business that now holds an overpowering edge over the Game. And what's worse: I can't tell how much longer the Game itself will hold out.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gene Seymour.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT