I expect that this is going to be a somewhat unpopular post, judging by the feedback I’ve gotten on Twitter for suggesting it in the first place, but I want to hear what other people think.
First, the background. During halftime of the Steelers/Chiefs game on Sunday night, Bob Costas took to the air to deliver one of his Rooney-esque, moralizing lectures. This week was about touchdown celebrations and how they’re a symptom of a depraved culture. Watch for yourself:
Now, obviously, the correct first response to this is, “Oh brother.” It’s precisely the kind of sanctimonious nonsense that certain folks (the aforementioned Andy Rooney among them, although see also Mitch Albom) love to spout about things because that’s just kind of their shtick. It comes from the same grumpy place that all social conservatism comes from, but it’s then spiced up with a little extra sermonizing and some charming name-calling (“knucklehead”). The appropriate rejoinder is probably something along the lines of pointing out that there’s nothing especially graceFUL about going on TV and haranguing other people about their lack of grace. Especially given that you work for a company that makes billions of dollars off of the images you’re fulminating against.
But I’m not quite comfortable stopping there. The rant skeeves me out for more than just the usual anti-smugness reasons, I think. Isn’t it also kind of a bit… well, racist? I’m not claiming that Bob Costas is a racist, or that he’s animated by antipathy for black people, but the image of a white guy haranguing (mostly) black players for lack of grace or class? I don’t know; it gives me the creeps.
The rant seems, to me, part and parcel of a general cultural dominance-and-submission thing that’s fairly pervasive. In an effort never to let a topic on the League die, I’ll link back to Tod’s post about the War on Christmas from the other day, because I think some of the same anxieties are implicated. It’s not enough for certain people that Christmas is the dominant cultural theme for an entire month of the year (even if commercially bastardized in some uncomfortable ways), or that there are Christmas trees and lights (and Santas, which aren’t Christian, per se, but are explicitly associated with the Christian holiday and not the Jewish one) all over the place. A slight rise in secularism (or pluralism, more accurately) really has created a world in which Christmas, while dominant in the extreme, isn’t exactly the only game in town. So these folks imagine that there is some cadre of secular boogeymen out to get them, and every “Happy holidays” becomes a declaration of hostilities.
That’s a long way of saying that I see something similar in Costas’ rant about the NFL. Whether he intended it or not, the whole thing struck me as a welling-up of some racial anxieties at work more broadly in the culture. I don’t believe it’s the celebrations that bother Costas so much as the character of the celebrations. Why didn’t we see a clip of Tebow ostentatiously praying to God every single time anything of note happens? Why doesn’t that offend Costas as much as players ribbing Plaxico over the fact that he shot himself in the leg (which, to my mind, is a much more appropriate use of a player’s celebration time in the first place)?
I’ll close with a tweet from Andy Hutchins from SBNation: