Liz Smith: Football Violence — A Touchdown Too Much?

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And more from our Gossip Girl : Natalie Portman knows why men love “Black Swan” … artist Tommy Thomas feted … and a great review of a great book on Frank Sinatra

“SERIOUS SPORT has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words — war without guns,” said George Orwell.

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I carefully taped and watched the Jets and the Steelers game last Sunday night and I’ve seldom seen such violent clashes on the football field.

I assume most everyone thinks this is swell and as it “should be” in contact sports. (The continuous screams of the crowd pretty much drowned out everything the CBS commentators were saying in any case.)

But as one after the other of men from these teams were carried off or limped off the field, it seemed to me that violence reigned rather than any sportsmanship. Pretty much I guess like the Romans cheering on as the gladiators killed one another.

Need more on this?  Read the Jan. 31 issue of The New Yorker, with a piece titled “Does Football Have a Future?” by Ben McGrath.

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USA TODAY, one of my favorite print newspapers, has the best entertainment coverage of anybody left in that field. (Add the new version of The Hollywood Reporter to that kind of reportage! But the latter is a trade paper and quite expensive on an annual basis.)

Anyway, USA Today covers Natalie Portman in their January 24th edition, citing “The Year of Women.” And this is what they printed: “’The Hurt Locker’s’ Kathryn Bigelow might have made history last year by becoming the first female director to win an Oscar. But the feminine touch is likely to feel more like a punch when the names for this year’s Academy Awards are revealed Tuesday. From a ballet film that men will actually see to a dramedy about lesbian parents. From fresh-faced newcomers dominating their films to over-40 stalwarts gaining recognition.”

I found these comments kind of funny. The reason the star of “Black Swan,” the fabulous Natalie Portman, cites her movie as making men come to see it are the explicit lesbian love scenes and seductions that interrupt the beautiful ballet stuff.

And Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as “old married” lesbians in “The Kids Are All Right” has also won a big following. (Both Portman and Bening are nominated for “best actress” Oscars.)

It certainly is a new day for active lesbians on film. And not just “lipstick lesbians.”

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At a 90th birthday party in Broadway’s Joe Allen café the other night, the “found” artist Tommy Thomas was feted by none other than Frank Rich of The New York Times. And when I spoke, I recalled that  another Timesman, the late art critic John Russell, had also saluted Tommy’s talent and given her raves. Both Gloria Vanderbilt and Liza Minnelli were there, charming her.

But the evening’s funniest moment was offered up by the comic actress Anne Meara, a woman who doesn’t care that her own fame has been eclipsed by her famous and popular son, Ben Stiller. Annie rose up and recalled her early days with Tommy, adding that to put things in perspective, “I believe I was ovulating at the time.”

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Several weeks ago, this column gave a rave to James Kaplan’s Frank: The Voice, a different kind of pageturner in the sweepstakes of celebrity biography. We knew the minute we read it that this take on Frank Sinatra was a work of honest evaluation in a class by itself.

Now, none other than the distinguished New York Review of Books has topped us in a rave from writer Geoffrey O’Brien. His analysis of the book entailing Sinatra’s rise, fall and rise has been brilliantly offered up. Even if you never read the Doubleday book, you might want to delve into Mr. O’Brien’s masterful take on it in the February 10th issue of the New York Review. (I sent my copy off to Tina Sinatra, since I know Sinatra’s children are ever-vigilant about his reputation and these recent works enhance and analyze that in distinct truthfulness.)

Here’s a sample: “If Sinatra, despite many striking screen performances, from ‘Eternity’s’ Maggio to ‘The Manchurian Candidate,’ never quite created a movie persona equal to his gifts, it was because his real movie was his life, a spectacle whose excesses, emotional swings, casual cruelties, and hair-trigger outbursts went well beyond anything Hollywood was likely to attempt.

“And he did not live it alone; while the book’s central focus might be taken as the difficulty of being Frank Sinatra, it was, by Kaplan’s  reckoning, clearly not much easier being Tommy Dorsey (“ever restless, insatiably ambitious”) or Buddy Rich (“volatile, egomaniacal”) or Lana Turner (“an empty shell of a human being”) or Nelson Riddle (“a dour, caustic, buttoned-up Lutheran”) or Jimmy Van Heusen (“foul-mouthed, obsessed with sex and alcohol”) or least of all, Ava Gardner, who when she enters the scene takes over the book pretty much the way she seems to have taken over Sinatra’s psyche.”

Buy the book, read it, then read the review of it.

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THEY DO say that at the recent dinner Mayor Bloomberg gave in his Manhattan townhouse for the departing School Chancellor Joel Klein, the latte rose after the Mayor and made a fascinating and charming departing speech.

Then, Cathie Black, the somewhat controversial new School Chancellor rose and made a few remarks. When she finished, the Mayor piped up, heard by all … “And don’t screw up!” said he. Cathie laughed and said, “I won’t!”

This was a very posh crowd and the Mayor didn’t really use the word “screw.”

4 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    The violence on the field is reflective of the violence off the field and reflective of how violence is becoming acceptable in our society.  We are beginning to reflect Nazi Germany in the early days. Blinding ourselves the way the Germans did.  Although not all blinded themselves. 

    That Michael Vick would be allowed to return to professional football says all that needs to be said. We love the bullies in our society. And the natural born killers. We truly believe that might makes right. 

  2. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    Hockey has been this violent for years. It is not only tolerated but expected and no one seems to be shocked at the many injuries spurred from this sport. It all comes down to testosterone, and when men flocked together, the testosterone is contagious. Now, I am not an advocate for violence on the field, I understand the public pressure that is thrust upon these teams to win. Men will not see the injuries as they would if witnessing a car accident. It is just a means to the end and that is the mind-set that exists when viewing these sports. The more the contact, the more the propensity for the incidents. The sad part is the teen-age population who emulate the pros and do subject themselves to life altering injuries…even death. They simply do not have the experience that the pro’s have but play as if they do. Their bodies are still fragile and are maturing. Maybe more intervention at THIS level may prevent these upcoming pro’s to be a bit more aware of the damage that can be done but testosterone and adrenal rushes are hard to control, so I fear these injuries and such will continue. Under national public concern, teams will not disappoint their fans and go for the win…no matter what. Now, how they conduct their private lives is really no ones business. They are subjected to the same chaos and poor decision making as your next door neighbor.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      Oh, it’s in the estrogen as well. It’s just, well, it’s easier to just sit back and watch the testosterone.  Some women, you will recall, will pick up the golf club and use their husband’s head as the ball. Contact sport indeed. We are, well, rather violent creatures deep down. Women were mucking around in the primordial mud along with the men.  My concern is we are returning to the mud in our society instead of finally emerging from it. It’s not just the violence. It’s lack of any real moral compass. 

  3. avatar D C says:

    Regarding football and violence, I believe I have a unique ability to comment on this.  I have been “warming the bleachers for literally 38 years, as a fan of brothers, then a high school band member, then a college band member, then the wife of a coach, and finally these last six years as the mom of a player AND wife of the coach.  And yes, Football is, indeed, a violent sport.   I have a son that played offensive line at a Texas 5-A school (biggest schools, highest level of competition in the state) who is 6’2” tall, weighed 250 pounds while playing his senior year, and has only had a couple of glances from college scouts — small, division 2 and 3 scouts.  Division 2 pays scholarships.  Division 3 doesn’t.  My son was not big enough to play at the D-2 level, don’t even THINK about Division 1.  The men that play D-1 Football are about the only ones that go on to play in the pro’s.  There are some exceptions, but not a lot.  Think about all the little boys that play Pee Wee, who go on to play junior high, then high school, then the lucky few who go on to play at the college level, and then the tiny minority of men who have the talent to go on to play at the Professional Level.  These men have literally clawed their way to the top, and literally run over thousands of competitors to make it to to that level.  They are paid a lot of money to play that game well and there is constant incentive to keep that high paying job by doing whatever it takes to keep that job.  There is ALWAYS someone younger, faster, stronger, waiting in the wings to take their place.  They know what they are doing when they are out there on the football field wreaking havoc on each other.  They are keeping their jobs. 

    Is it right?  That is really kind of silly question. 

    They are doing what it takes in this profession to keep their jobs.  So yes, it’s right. 

    Are WE right to want to watch it, and pay money to watch it? 

    That’s pretty much the same as asking a man who likes to see women prance around in 6 inch stiletto boots in a leather outfit while slapping him with a leather whip: Is it “right” that he likes that? 

    The answer to both questions is, it’s neither right nor wrong.  It’s what one likes.  If people are willing to do it, and MAKE MONEY doing it… that’s their choice. 

    If we get sick of watching the mayhem, and stop paying to watch the mayhem, and NFL owners stop making so much money because the public demands that the game be made more humane, then it will happen.  Until then, don’t expect anything to change.