Hot Air: God & Football

Religion — and even the lack of it — causes us all to become…, well, weird.

I make no bones about being an atheist. It wasn’t easy coming to that realization, what with being brought up a Roman Catholic and living in a society and world where god is thrown in my face every 23 seconds. The worst was when my mother asked me if I still believed in god — knowing full well what the answer was, but still needing to hear it from my lips. I told her the truth, that I am an atheist, and upon hearing the word she threw her head back in grief as if I’d confessed to helping John Wayne Gacy bury the bodies.

Ma wasn’t always a dedicated god-ist. She peeled away from the Church back in 1970s when millions like her did the same. A Time magazine cover had asked if god was dead in 1966 and the question seemed to seep through American society.

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Then Vietnam, revelations about CIA and FBI hijinks, and Watergate turned the populace off to authority figures, and eschewing organized religion followed. Ma started coming back around to the Church when she hit her 80s. My take was she felt the need to hedge her bets as the end seemed near. She resumed going to mass every week. She began praying her rosary every day. Whenever I’d find myself in a fix — an uncomfortably frequent state — she’d pledge to pray for me. In fact, she promised to say an extra-special prayer for me every day because, she said somberly, I needed it. My nephew Tony, alone among the family, went to mass with her a few times thereby earning an exalted place in her heart.

Confessing my atheism to her was one of the few times in life I’d ever truly disappointed her.

Still, the truth must be adhered to. I began feeling god was the bunk back when I was 11 or 12 years old. The nuns at St Giles school told us we had to love god. I spent hours, late at night, alone in my bed, trying to figure out what that meant. So I resorted to imagining kissing his cheek as Ma’d instruct me to kiss Daddy-o’s cheek goodnight before going to bed. My old man had heavy whiskers so brushing my baby-ish lips against his sandpaper face was not exactly a thrill. I got no thrill from loving god, either.

By the time I was 12 I’d become too big to clobber into submission, so M & D couldn’t force me to go to church with them anymore. Their own weekly attendance at mass was a habit soon broken in any case.

Only a couple of times since then have I felt the need for god. Times when I was alarmingly down on my luck, the sum total of my wealth being whatever cash I had in my pocket, or one or another love of my life having given me the slip.

Today, I’m a happy atheist. I don’t ridicule those who believe in god. Hell, this life is so baffling, so confounding, such a mental and emotional ordeal, that it’s only natural for folks to grasp and search and grope for something to hold onto as the rushing waters of time threaten to wash us all into oblivion.

Still, pious people, those who give their lives over to the idea that a big cat in the sky smiles kindly upon them when they tell him how much they dig him, seem as one to want to apologize to me when they feel the need to pray for me. When I was fistfighting cancer earlier this year, any number of peeps preambled their pledges to pray for me by saying “I’m sorry, but….”

In everyday conversations, when the talk gets around to what tortures or deliverances the future may or may not hold, scads o’folks say to me, “I’m sorry, but I believe god will take care of us….”

I don’t get it.

Why apologize to me?

Perhaps it’s because too many of the religious among us traditionally have scorned, shunned, prosecuted, persecuted, and occasionally snuffed out the lives of those whose god-philosophies varied even minutely from their own. Funny, I don’t feel like killing anyone who who doesn’t believe exactly as I do. Or, shall I say, doesn’t non-believe.

Grid Grey Matters

Kudos to Indiana University quarterback Zander Diamont for realizing the game of football just might turn his mind into mush.

Diamont says he’s going to quit the game after IU plays in whatever bowl it’s invited to this year. “…[F]or my safety and my future…,” he says, “I need my brain.”

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Head Game

The junior Hoosier ball thrower will forego his final year of gridiron eligibility and graduate early.

Let’s be honest — Diamont is not making the sacrifice of a lifetime. He had no chance of being drafted by an NFL team this coming spring or any subsequent spring. It’s doubtful he’d even be of interest to a Canadian Football League team. He’s about as big as a high school sophomore, meaning he’d be flattened regularly by the behemoths that play the pro game. He’s already been battered by opposing college linemen. Still, he’s making a point.

What does all this mean for the game itself?

At one time, boxing was the preeminent sport in this holy land. The heavyweight champ back in the days of Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and Rocky Marciano was as revered and recognizable as Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant were not that long ago or LeBron James is today. Then boxing lost its luster, thanks in large part to corruption courtesy of the Mob and assorted other gambling interests. But the death blow to the sport came when too many boxers died or, invariably, became babbling idiots due to the constant barrage of blows to the skull they’d endured. The public at large began to see the Sweet Science for the savage blood sport it is

Can the same thing happen with football?

Sure.

Zander Diamont isn’t the first guy to walk away from the game. Several NFL players already have ditched the sport in mid-career, saying they were concerned about their brains. And, yeah, ex-NFL-ers are dying, both by complications resulting from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and by their own hands as a result of CTE.

Who knows? Perhaps America’s flamboyantly hetero males may have their fall Sunday afternoons free in the foreseeable future.

The Boxer

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