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READY FOR FOOTBALL? Welcome back to Sunday afternoon

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While many boycott the NFL this year, Mark Basquill will continue to enjoy Sunday afternoons while also supporting players’ rights to kneel.

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Not me. Many men are boycotting the NFL this season, angry that several of their exalted gladiators refuse to be good soldiers. These fans were able to overlook the routine NFL shootings, sexual assaults and OJ Simpson—but not players taking a knee during the national anthem to bring attention to racial injustice. Other boycotters are upset at the wussification of the game itself; at young players retiring after only a few dozen concussions. These men would sell their whole fantasy team to play one down with the real Patriots.

Welcome back to Sunday afternoon, guys!

Maybe that mancave-drinking time can be spent going for a run, practicing yoga, hugging a tree, or perhaps even hugging a son or daughter.

I support Colin Kaepernick and crew, but I’ve long questioned our national zealotry for a game that is intentionally violent, teaches obedience more than self-discipline, fosters tribe-mind in what’s left of damaged brains, and is crazy sexist. It’s the signature sport of an empire that would rather let an inexperienced impulsive business “man” carry the aptly named “Nuclear Football” than a qualified woman.

Football’s armored up, helmeted, militarized masked version of a man projects and protects a narrow and fragile version of masculinity that diminishes men and women. There’s nothing wrong with a 250-pound man able to bench press a cow and run 40 yards in 4.6 seconds while tap-dancing through other behemoths trying to tackle him. But those biggly skills represent one version of a man, not the only or even best version.

Recent hurricane disasters and our hawk’s nest bump-stock shooter have at least temporarily dulled my interest in distractions, but I’ve always had better things to do than watch two platoons of my fellow males armor up and throw bombs. When I was 6, my dad taught me to catch a football by bouncing the pigskin off my head, laughing, and calling me a little girl. Apparently, I cried with anger and wouldn’t leave the playground until I made a few catches. When my father told me that story, he highlighted the positives, the seeds of a stubbornness that still serves me. But there are darker lessons about masculinity, strength, and life in similar “character-building” events experienced by far too many boys.

Playing football as a teen, I cut across the middle to catch a pass and got my bell rung and ribs cracked. (Does holding on to the ball make me a real man?) I didn’t need a concussion protocol to teach me football is brain-rattling, mind-numbing mock combat. Watching my sons play sports (including football) in paranoid patriotic post-9/11 America didn’t help. There is no need for any high-school student/athlete to wear camouflage uniforms to “support the troops” or turn every sports game into an Army-recruiting event. In the trustworthy republic, we could yet become there will always be enough truly committed youth to defend the Constitution.

Flaws and all, football is as American as jazz or apple pie. Because the game is so popular here, it seems like it should have universal appeal. Why are there no Pop Warner leagues in Mali, Pakistan or Syria? Probably because, like obesity and diabetes, football is a product of American abundance and our perpetually insecure empire. (Fear not, sports fans, I predict the Stars & Stripes will fly until the Moscow Cossacks beat the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving.)

Football may be the signature sport of our American empire, but baseball was the signature sport of the American republic. About a decade after Joe DiMaggio retired in 1951, baseball lost its grip on what Eisenhower termed “the emerging military-industrial complex.” According to Casey, “hope springs eternal,” and according to Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon’s iconic “Bull Durham” character), Walt Whitman once said, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.”

This football season I’ll take a knee with Kaepernick and sing with Paul Simon: “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” No, I won’t be watching NFL football yet again this season, but I’d like to see this POTUS Article 25’d, and the “Nuclear Football,” in saner hands. And I’d love to see a great Yanks-Cubs fall classic.

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