I’ve always been a football fan. I’ve played football. I collected football trading cards. My brothers and I once received Christmas gifts of football helmets and shoulder pads. So it may surprise you to hear that I’ve launched a movement to change the culture of American football. My idea is simple: teams should cooperate.
This plan came to me during a game between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers, bitter rivals in the NFC North Division. Something about the fierceness of this gridiron battle made me take a closer look at the action on the field, not just to observe the plays, but to study the deeper problem of mutual hostility. In the room with me were two friends, one rooting for the Bears, the other for the Packers. Their verbal and symbolic aggression toward one another underscored my sense that something is wrong with this game.
Football is an exercise in gridlock and frustration. Notice how often running backs make no more than three yards of forward progress before some linebacker body-slams them or tackles them and drives them into the turf. Linemen rush the quarterback, and even when they don’t sack him, they harass him, making him as miserable as they can. Every hopeful effort by one team is relentlessly opposed and resisted by the other. This is trained behavior. Under such conditions, the outcome is predictable. By hook or by crook, one team will defeat the other, and half the players on the field will go home losers.
Every NFL season is devoted to producing as many losers as possible. I suppose I’ve always known how wrong it is to have only one Super Bowl championship team. It’s a glorious outcome for those particular players, but the other 31 squads end the season as pitiable losers. Each week of the regular season produces 16 losing teams, and the misery is multiplied by 46 players per team, a coaching staff, and untold numbers of fans, including children, whose hopes are crushed, maybe forever. Think about it. What kind of message does such a king-of-the-hill, winner-takes-all tradition send to our kids?
I’ve proposed that the league abandon this counterproductive tradition of aggressive opposition. Each game should start with the two teams cooperatively selecting a common end zone. Then begins the process of helping one another catch as many passes, kick as many field goals, score as many points as they can fit into sixty minutes of good football action.
It would take just two brave teams to show the way. It might even begin at the college level, where our local team seems especially well-prepared to lead. Isn’t it a shame that a great Catholic university calls itself the Fighting Irish? What if they were the Friendly Irish? Surely that’s the real significance of the “Touchdown Jesus” mural. Christ says, “Score touchdowns together, in my name.” There’s a kind of touchdown that happens only where people gather together in a spirit of love. The truly great plays are the ones that light up heaven’s scoreboard.
And am I crazy to believe that cooperative football could be the first step toward national unity and world peace? Cooperative football is the future.
Are you listening, Coach Kelly?
Music: “Why Can’t We Be Friends?" by War