GQ published an excerpt from Chuck Klosterman’s book But What If We’re Wrong? last May — and while it’s nominally about football, violence, and why the sport isn’t going away anytime soon, it’s also a prescient analysis of current U.S. politics.
There’s an embedded assumption within all arguments regarding the doomed nature of football. The assumption is that the game is even more violent and damaging than it superficially appears, and that as more people realize this (and/or refuse to deny the medical evidence verifying that damage), the game’s fan support will disappear. The mistake made by those advocating this position is their certitude that this perspective is self-evident. It’s not. These advocates remind me of an apocryphal quote attributed to film critic Pauline Kael after the 1972 presidential election: “How could Nixon have won? I don’t know one person who voted for him.” Now, Kael never actually said this. But that erroneous quote survives as the best shorthand example for why smart people tend to be wrong as often as their not-so-smart peers—they work from the flawed premise that their worldview is standard. The contemporary stance on football’s risk feels unilateral, because nobody goes around saying, “Modern life is not violent enough.” Yet this sentiment quietly exists. And what those who believe it say instead is, “I love football. It’s the last bastion of hope for toughness in America.” It’s not difficult to imagine a future where the semantic distance between those statements is nonexistent. And if that happens, football will change from a popular leisure pastime to an unpopular political necessity.