Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ready for Some Football

"That time of year thou mayest … me behold” [Sonnet 73] spending an inordinate number of hours on the couch yelling intermittingly at the TV.  My illicit affection for a particularly gladiatorial sport that now practically defines what fall means in America dates back to childhood when, during tomboy years, I loved few things more than rushing quarterbacks in a pick-up game of tackle football at the daycare center or the courtyard of some kid’s apartment complex; I cherished the bruises and grass stains and rips in my jeans that I acquired as little badges of courage. 

Some who know me well have trouble seeing how this secret predilection of mine fits with other things they know about me, such as the more cerebral preferences suggested by this blawg and political sensibilities that tend thematically toward peace, love, and understanding.  After all, football is a (barely) sublimated glorification of war.  All sports are really.  But football makes the metaphor impossible to miss.  It is, after all, about conquering territory by overcoming a defensive line while brutes threaten to drag the standard bearer down to the field with bone-rattling blows, virtually guaranteed to cause injury, so that, despite the vigilance of bulky guards, simply crossing the line of scrimmage is a struggle.
But unlike war, with football and other sports, there are clear rules and referees.  There are predictable ways to assess winners and losers.  And while casualties certainly occur with every play in football, they are not the principal objective (unless you play defense for the New Orleans Saints).

Litigation is more like football than war in that adversaries engage in combat but are tethered by rules and refs.  Litigation is more like war than football in that what it means to “win” can be rather ambiguous and fluid.  With legal disputes that turn into litigation and make it all the way to trial, winning can sometimes feel like losing—because the victory may ultimately be outweighed by the opportunity costs (not to mention the actual costs).  Likewise, losing can sometimes feel like winning because, over the course of a hard-fought legal battle, having that elusive day in court and then getting some finality can be enough to prompt the healing process at last.  Weirder still, the aspects of litigation that are more like football than war—the rules and the refs—are precisely the part of the process that laypeople can find exasperating.  This is probably because, unlike the rules of football, most Americans are not weaned on the rules of procedure and the rules of evidence and so do not understand the massive amounts of discretion that the refs (aka trial judges) have in overseeing how the game is played.  In other words, the aspects of litigation that seem more like football are actually far more complex and nuanced than those governing football.  And when something we don’t understand seems superficially analogous to something familiar and then the analogy breaks down, this can, perhaps, breed more consternation than feelings of total incomprehension.  A paradox, indeed.
Shakespeare, of course, had nothing to say about football.  And I do not see much in his work to suggest that he was much of a sports fan.  He used “sport” as a pejorative term to refer to something pleasurable but mildly sadistic.  See, e.g.:  “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.”  [King Lear, IV.1]; or this from the Princess in Love’s Labour’s Lost, as she embraces a plan whereby the girls intend to humiliate the boys, who have shunned the girls’ company:  

There's no such sport as sport by sport o'erthrown,
To make theirs ours and ours none but our own:
So shall we stay, mocking intended game,
And they, well mock'd, depart away with shame.

 Yet Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, like all Elizabethan theaters, was not just a venue for theatrical productions.  These venues housed bear-baiting competitions and other decidedly visceral sporting events on alternate days with productions of Hamlet, sort of like the Erwin Center in Austin houses both UT basketball games and Lady Gaga concerts.  So you would think that WS would have seen sports fanaticism as symbiotic with theater patronage and thus a good thing. 

But maybe there was resentment, a sense that hosting these more primal diversions was a necessary evil to help underwrite more lofty recreation, but not something worth celebrating in and of itself.

In any case, based on the scant evidence, I conclude that Shakespeare may not have shared my affection for football—or for the game of litigation.  He would, however, have understood my ambivalence about these things because of their similarity with warfare, a phenomenon that he occasionally celebrated (Henry V) but more often exposed as a highly destructive impulse and breeding ground for unhealthy ambitions (Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Julius Caesar, Titus Andronicus, etc., etc., etc.).  Then again, maybe he could have been convinced that both football and litigation are actually good things precisely because they are substitutes for war and thus earmarks of civilization. . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment