I don't blame professional footballers for suing the NFL for supposedly having failed adequately to protect them from head injury.
That's the way we do things in our society. We see a problem and start suing; it's our way of trying to figure out what changes need to be made and whose insurance companies are going to pay for them.
What I don't buy, not for a second, is that we didn't all already know that playing football, the way they play it in the NFL, is very dangerous. (Although we have surely learned a good deal about the far-reaching consequences of head injury! See this technical article; it was cited in Barbara King's provocative discussion here at 13.7 on Thursday.)
A great many sports are dangerous, to one degree or another.
Athletes get hurt. Badly. They're like gladiators. They get beat up, knocked around, and they live with pain. Surgery, to repair damage done and to extend a career, is normal.
They say taking steroids and other performance enhancing drugs is bad for your health. One reason to ban PEDs, it is said, is to protect athletes from these dangers.
That reasoning reminds me of a joke: a man stands before the firing squad; he is offered a last cigarette. "No thank you," he says. "I'm trying to quit."
If you want safety and good health, steroids are not the problem. It's sports themselves.
But my aim today is to praise sport, though, not to bury it.
I will be watching the Super Bowl this weekend. And I recommend it to you.
Forget the dangers. Forget the use of banned drugs. Forget the commercialism.
The value of sports — the value of spectator sports — outstrips all that.
Sports is a field of love.
We love sports. We love these athletes.
And we value being spectators because it gives us an opportunity to love and adore them.
We admire them, in the original sense of this word: we feel wonder in the face of all that these athletes accomplish. We are awed by their strength and speed, extraordinary skill, drive and determination, their fight.
But above all, we value the physical courage that enables these players to play to win. We applaud them for their willingness to leap and jump and twist and slam and take the hit.
I won't allow my boys to play tackle football in high school. That's not the life I want for them.
But I will be watching the Super Bowl this weekend to celebrate and adore these most unusually accomplished and beautiful people!
We may forget that poetry in Europe begins with the celebration of athletic achievment in the Odes of Pindar. The spectacle of sports carries on and it remains a fitting subject for celebration.