Friday, January 30, 2015

Everything Stupid Is Alive, and Everything Stupid Can Kill You: Welcome to Goodell World

Note: This piece originally appeared somewhere that is not here. It was taken down for a project. (DO NOT ASK WHAT THE PROJECT IS.)

Here's a horrifying game you can play during this Sunday's Super Bowl and the nearly 12 hours of pre- and postgame content: count the number of times you hear some variation of "deflated balls" and compare that to the number of times during Super Bowls XLV or XLVII you heard the phrases "two-time accused rapist" or "accused co-conspirator in a double murder." Or just compare "deflated balls" to "brain damage." Then see if the first number dwarfs a combination of the last three by an order of magnitude. It will.

Naturally, this comparison isn't meant to equate accusations of equipment tampering with accusations of rape and murder or mental destruction. The latter three are so vastly more repugnant, which is why you will hear about them as little as possible. That silence ultimately stems from the NFL's inevitable trajectory toward a vertically integrated entertainment-capital complex that also happens to include football. It is a spectacle machine and an ATM that reflects, promotes and admires itself. For all the talk of harsh gridiron realities, the NFL hasn't been in the reality business for a while. Reality is its enemy, and the Super Bowl—the largest spectacle of the game—is paradoxically its most vulnerable creation. It is an event ballooned so large that the slightest puncture threatens to send it deflating into a long, suffocating series of fatal escaping farts.

Recognizing that, the league has sought to make the game only part of a broader monument to late-stage capitalism—the sort of tone-deaf, self-lampooning creation that follows a lot of battlefield metaphors and hammer-on-anvil-strike sound effects with the "AT&T/HR Block 'You Made The Right Call' Statistical Outlier Fan Vote: Text '1929' To Vote For Your Favorite 35-Yard Completion" dead-ball filler.

Compared to America's official secular holidays (the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving), honoring America's founding or the importance of family seems like work next to "Super Bowl Sunday," which goes to all the effort of honoring itself. After even a perfunctory amount of pregame feature pieces, anyone watching will know how much the average seat cost, in order to reinforce the specialness of attendance. Pregame and halftime performers are introduced with a citation of the number of records they have sold, in case you are unaware of the rare cost of the treat.

More specifically, one guest at every party will have memorized the statistic printed in that morning's paper and repeated on every pregame show indicating exactly how much 30 seconds of commercial airtime cost during the game. Despite the lack of creativity in the vast majority of commercials, many people watch the game solely to see how much money was spent selling them products, leading to the inevitable curse hurled at the screen, "Four-point-five million dollars for that?" This is serious business, and we are seriously invested, regardless of the fact that this is the act of insane people—like bitching not about the existence of Muzak, but because your favorite shoegaze band isn't being played when the local cable company customer-service flunky puts you on hold.

At every step of the way, someone should laugh at this, and at every step of the way, every person involved in serving you this spectacle will completely fail to accomplish this basic human function. The NFL is all business at every given moment, because of that very serious $7 billion annual cost to the networks that broadcast it and are the primary source of "adversarial" journalism about it. On a workaday basis, this elevates insignificant bullshit like coaching and "game plans" to geopolitical high art, like two kids playing Risk thinking they are Talleyrand and Metternich about to vanquish Napoleon and establish the Concert of Europe.

When actual news breaks, the integration of the NFL as entertainment with its own reporting wing becomes unmistakable. At this point, Sports Illustrated's Peter King can't speak when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is drinking a glass of water. ESPN's Adam Schefter initially responded to Goodell's preposterous two-game suspension of Ray Rice for knocking out his fiancée Janay by asking, "Was the Commissioner lenient enough?" There were, after all, the hundreds of thousands of people paying for fantasy leagues for whom Rice's existence manifested solely as someone Starting or Not Starting in the NFL.

Or consider NBC's broadcast of the divisional playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots. On raw audio, you could hear play-by-play man Al Michaels going over prepared comments about Goodell and his handling of the Rice domestic violence issue and the fatuous report by Robert Mueller. Following Michaels, color commentator Cris Collinsworth stated, "The decision initially to suspend Ray Rice for two games was a mistake, and the commissioner admitted that. But I never once in all my dealings with the commissioner doubted his integrity." He sounded like he was staring at a picture of a hooded man holding up a copy of that day's newspaper and a revolver to his son's head.

Commissioner Goodell's response to his singular failure to address the Ray Rice domestic-violence arrest (or the dozens that have occurred virtually unnoticed during his tenure) was to arrogate to himself more authority to adjudicate them. If you've already integrated the competitive, broadcast and reporting parts of the game, you might as well include the justice system too. He has created a nearly self-contained reality because, all evidence of his massive idiocy aside, he's canny enough to recognize that the one thing most hostile to the NFL Shield is real life. And for the most part, it's worked. The Rice assault would probably have disappeared down the memory hole like its dozens of predecessors had it not been accompanied by the galvanic and undeniable reality of video.

Goodell knows that, on a very fundamental level, we watch football to be spared reality. There is no more automatic response to a sportswriter discussing politics or social issues than the cry, "Stick to sports." Fans have been his willing accomplices in denying the traumas and injustices underlying the games, because we embrace the game primarily for escapism and for the illusion that we can witness morality plays and talent competitions tested in a nowhere place of complete fairness and equilibrium.

He mostly would've gotten away with it, if it weren't for meddling facts generated not by social agitators and outside commentators, but by the normative functions of the NFL. Everything that so dearly threatens to crack the sealed environment of Goodell World is something created by Goodell World itself.

In a micro sense, you can point to the insane privilege of fame that likely spared Ben Roethlisberger from reckoning with the fact that he is human garbage – apart from a six-game suspension subsequently reduced to four. You can point to tolerated law enforcement partnerships with teams like the 49ers and Steelers, who have their own "fixers." You can point to the privilege that lets Colts owner Jim Irsay get pulled over drunk and on Vicodin and get ordered to stay off Twitter while Marshawn Lynch gets fined for not talking pretty to the NFL promotional wing. Or Jimmy Haslam keeping his team despite being a massive fraudster, while one of his wide receivers gets suspended again and again for smoking weed. Or Dan Snyder trivializing a genocide. Or Jerry Richardson extorting his city at great profit. But all that's predictable. Protecting franchise-defining players and keeping the grunts in line while keeping labor costs low and owner revenue high is just good business in a league that unironically and ubiquitously refers to its competition as the on-field product.

In the macro sense, though, the air-sucking sound escaping from Goodell World started with the revelation that, on every down, every player on the line is pulverizing another bit of his brain and that, not only did the NFL deny knowledge of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, they actively sought to undermine it. The fundamental tragedy of the NFL—the fact that by merely working properly on every play, it risks destroying people—is one cast down from the game itself to send the real world shuddering. That the NFL's hermetic environment could only think to suppress the story while attempt to divert attention with "safe tackling" protocols and big fines for telegenic tackles only reified the severity of the problem and the psychotic clown show overseeing it.

"Stick to sports" only goes so far. Ray Lewis' involvement in a double murder can be written off as an aberration and ignored as so much old news. Roethlisberger's double rape allegations are now old news, but back then, they were distorted by the funhouse mirror of Goodell World until dismissing them seemed almost less than outrageous. By the time the soft-focus pregame features of Super Bowl XLV came along, you had people like Fox's Curt Menefee actually suggesting that winning the game would complete Roethlisberger's "redemption season," while everyone else portrayed being accused of violating another woman as more or less "adversity."

This alone explains why you will hear no end of invocations of "deflated balls" this Sunday. Deflating a ball is a crime only in Goodell World, where the fraction of people who give a shit about it is only slightly greater than the people who care about it in real life—which is zero. It's a crime about the integrity of the game, one that only exists within the game and can only be prosecuted and disciplined within the game. It is the sweetest outrage because it is 100 percent recreational. Most importantly, it's not a crime, or at least a horror, created by the normative function of the game.

Goodell World started to collapse before the season began, when the hard corporeal truths of the NFL dropped a passel of bodies through the bubble and when Ray Rice drove a fist through it, forcing Goodell to attempt a patch job on something irreparably broken, revealing a system more devoted to its preservation than justice. Football completed the first stage of a terminal assault on itself this year, and it will do anything to convince you that the organism has never been healthier.
So, on Sunday, you will learn how much every second of it cost to broadcast, because expensive things are always beautiful things. You will hear how lucky everyone is to be there, and how much famous people feel privileged to both perform and attend. You will be told that it is a showcase of spiritual struggle that transcends mere human meat because it has to be more important than that. And you will hear how the sharpest knife held to the heart—the integral working—of that spectacle is two dudes poking a pin in a pigskin bladder.

You will hear that incanted without irony from the people whose duty it is to view football with a skeptical eye, because most of them work for the same organs that largely furnish Goodell World's $7 billion operating budget. You will hear it not because Goodell asked—at that price, no one needs to ask—but because no one builds a subdivision and then tells buyers that the groundwater gives people fever. You will hear that, because only if that is the gravest threat to the NFL can Roger Goodell possibly have all the solutions. In a game whose biological realities stubbornly refuse to assent to PR diktat, the only reason to pursue this much comprehensive control is to perpetuate the illusion that everything is under it.


Shout out to Deadspin, from which I stole the Goodell image, and to my buddy Tim Burke, who is probably the poor bastard who had to screencap that.

67 comments:

  1. What's the project?

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  2. WHAT IS THE PROJECT FUCK STICK?

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  3. That is an extremely strong piece of work Mr.Lund. Very well done sir.

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  4. BRAVO! this is the best description of the NFL i have ever read.

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  5. On the mention of shitty owners I just want to give a shout out to Stan Kroenke for being a piece of shit. Fuck you Stan I hope your private jet crashes over the Atlantic and they find your body with that rat turd hairpiece clutched in your grasp!

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    1. If I were a St. Louis resident, when Kroenke tried to extort money from the city for a new stadium, I would be tempted to firebomb the stadium and dare him to move.

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    2. But you were cool when the former Rams owner screwed over the LA fan base? You're an idiot and a hypocrite.

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    3. Nope, I wasn't! But then again, I was constantly bitching because of the price for the "stadium" we got; the fact that the team would probably leave for greener pastures; and the fact that they HAD TO build the damn stadium in downtown St. Louis instead of, you know, an actual place with space instead of the overcrowded area it's in. Worst place ever!

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  6. Damn fine writing, Lund. Keep on keepin' on, I am convinced that we have seen the NFL's apogee and that it's all downhill from here.

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  7. Excellent piece... As a jags fan, i would like to say shad khan, and our previous owner Mr. Weaver, have been mostly incredible to the city of jacksonville and the franchise. I wouldn't group them with some of the other shit head owners around the league(unless we relocate then FUCK EM ALL)... Other than that i couldn't agree more with this article

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  8. Great article, two questions. 1. When where we so naïve that we really didn't know that repeated heavy blows to the head aren't good for you? 2. Was I the only one who's head exploded when Ray POS Lewis called out Alden Smith for his bad behavior on national TV? What the Fuck ESPN? If he can have a job making millions talking to the sports nation after his deal, then Pete Rose should sure as fuck be in the Hall. Nobody died on that one.

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  9. Don't forget that the NFL is a tax exempt non profit. Only in America.

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  10. Any chance you can replace the links that were in the body of the story? Thanks.

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    1. All the links should be there. Just checked.

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  11. Condi Rice for Commish

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    1. Yes. Because the person who tried to smile her way through the congressional hearing on the Bin Laden pre-9/11 report is exactly the person who would bring "integrity" to the league. She's as much of a scumbag as Goodell when it's time to pay the piper.

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    2. condi rice had nothing to do with anything "pre' Bin Laden...asshole

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    3. Really? Asshole.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/30/AR2006093000282.html

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    4. @ tom harris; the asshole: Perhaps you should learn to read and also to grasp that not only did that article not condemn Rice as responsible, but that that article's author is a left-wing hack- apologist for Bill Clinton, you fucking retarded kool-aid drunk liberal tool.

      Speaking of tools, I have shovels in my shed with much higher IQs than you possess.

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    5. can you post pics of you fucking them

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  12. This is a great fucking article, and it is a damn shame that the NFL bullied another media outlet into removing a negative piece about. Trying to control the media, by extorting them based on your yearly revenue is fucking Nazi like. It's a shame Rolling Stone pulled this, but this is a great piece and thank you for publishing it here.

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  13. Stick to sports, Lund. Stick to sports so much.

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  14. We are so outraged & nauseated by the NFL. I can only imagine what all of our beautiful mega-corporations may be up to. The NFL is just highly visible and holds our attention for more than a few minutes. I know that this is just standard procedure for "The Haves". Nothing...nothing slows the trains. The very image of guys like Goodell at the podium with his feigned concern and measured words just leave me dead inside. It's us guys who used to watch the old NFL films with Jon Facenda who have witnessed what it's all become, but the funny thing is that my kids and most kids I know could not care less about what the NFL has become. At some point I suppose it all consumes itself.

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  15. Eh, this is pretty crappy. I hate shit like this. Yeah, NFL owners bad, some NFL players bad, NFL commissioner bad, compliant media bad. SO? We knew this. Was the assignment, "Summarize our issues with the NFL as of Jan 2015"?

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    1. Ugh, yeah, I hate it when the whole commentary is just "this is bad" and "this is bad."

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  16. What time does the Super Bowl start?

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  17. Disabled anonymous comments because the racist/homophobic stuff is getting tiresome to wade through even via the moderation.

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  18. Beautiful. Why the hell would you take this down?

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  19. Yet Lund will still watch just like most Americans.

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    1. Also heard Lund is a sportswriter, so it could be that.

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    2. So Lund chooses to be part of the machine that benefits from everything that Lund bitches about in this article.

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    3. This guy makes a really good point--if you've ever once watched an NFL game and enjoyed it, you're not allowed to complain about anything the NFL does. That's the rule. Don't be mad at Mitch Lake for reminding you.

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    4. If you love football, you should care that the NFL is fucked up and ruining it.

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  20. This is some damn fine writing. LIKE times infinity

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  21. Mr. Lund states so eloquently what I've thought for years--basically, the NFL is fixed. It is fixed like pro wrestling. Everything is created solely to sell product, make money and burnish an image of all that is great and good with America. Disciplinary decisions re: Ray Rice, Ben Roethlisbeger, et.al are decided not to have the miscreants pay for their crimes but rather the decisions are made with how the NFL's image of all that is great and good with America will continue to be advanced. Storylines are created to make money, gain TV ratings. The "competition" such that it is, is way down the list of priorities as evidenced with the CTE and general player health issues.

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  22. Screw the NFL. I'm never watching this hypocrisy again. See you guys this Sunday and all of next season.

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  23. Roger Goodell filming his own tax-exempt HBO Series.

    Fine work, Jeb.

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  24. Great job on the article. Really wish (Major Social Commentary Publication) hadn't pussed out and pulled the article. One day the NFL will have to own up for its actions but until the. We will continue to see murderer analysts, rapist ProBowlers and ignorant owners. Just sad..

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  25. With all of this crap from these non-profit organizations, it is ridiculous they aren't as held to as high a standard as we did to other groups like ACORN or the United Nations Food Program or other humanitarian NGOs. You'd think being tax-exempt would imply standards were being met and exceeded, but they never are with sports. The players are treated like gods among men, yet rarely act as magnanimous as kings, and those who do are treated like wimps and aren't the role models we need.

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  26. Guessing the project is -- how many more page views can we get publishing, unpublishing, and publishing it.

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    1. What would be the point of that?

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    2. Think it would be an interesting insight into marketing in this age of social media. No? Actually think it would be really interesting sir.

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    3. Fair enough, but we'd need way more samples and way more of a control sample. Like, I updated this blog maybe four times last year, so any traffic is going to be a huge outlier spike that doesn't really tell you anything. And we'd have to print-and-pull a bunch of articles, especially on stuff where there was no obvious nefarious-sounding motive or spooky backstage figures. I'm sure a huge chunk of interest in this is people assuming that THE GINGER HAMMER made a phone call to kill this piece, which sounds neat and everything but is almost 100% unlikely. I mean, shit, Steve Almond has been getting published in Deadspin, Salon, the Daily Beast and everywhere else, and I already wrote about Goodell/the NFL in the Guardian and Rolling Stone before. You'd definitely have to get some real boring-sounding articles on consistently trafficked websites in there. Like, pull a piece about which new Garmin sucks the most or something.

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    4. You have the amazing ability to write copious amounts of great stuff my man. Even that reply ^ up there. That is a lot of typing. Agree, would be very difficult to truly weigh that effect. But much like a 'wardrobe malfunction' ... a 2nd story to a story is often a compelling reason to check out the latter.

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  27. The NFL has far too much control of their image and what the media says about them. It's the Beyonce of professional sports. And Lund's opening about their ability to make the past two weeks about deflated footballs instead of the league's real issues is spot on. This depresses me. And yet... go Pats.

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  28. Thanks for putting this out there. Especially the notes on domestic violence and silly spin. Certainly the NFL does everything it can to conceal pesky data showing how terrible the violence of football is for its participants, but I'd imagine most current pro players are aware they're putting their brain and quality of life at great risk by doing what they do on the field. (Blanket generalization and of course I can't speak for them but...) I imagine they choose to continue because they can make a bunch of money relatively quickly to provide for themselves/their family, and the fame doesn't hurt some either. Maybe they'd prefer their children don't follow in daddy's football footsteps, but they've made their bed and will lie in it as long as possible, maximizing potential for income and other opportunities at the knowing expense of present and future health. Unfortunately tackle football is so damn bad for people. Fortunately for my selfish pleasure, great athletes still choose to play it and many forces drive its numerous media offerings which I happily consume. Thanks again for your piece. THE HUNGRIEST GHOST

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  29. Jeb, thank you Mr Obvious for telling everyone what we already know. Is you next article one about terrorism being bad? Maybe tell people walmart doesn't treat their employees well. Your analogy about the neighborhood couldn't be more wrong, people know playing in the NFL will kill them without a doubt and they still make the choice to play. Please add something new, original or constructive and then we can have a conversation.

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    1. Ugh. We've already had the "we already knew this" discussion. Please add something new. Also feel free to hit everyone here with links to the forward-thinking conversation on this topic you were already having with the information everyone already knew.

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    2. LOL, I almost enjoy reading the "reply/commentary" as much as the article itself!

      Keep the heat on Jeb, and lets all watch the slow decent and demise of R. GOD'ell himself as he swirls down into the "Super Bowl of Societal Values" and he gasps for air as he attempts to cash that last $40 million dollar paycheck...

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  30. Mostly good stuff here in this column. I would only take issue with 2 things:

    1. Players are aware playing football has risks. Any contact sport, be it football, boxing, MMA or NBA Basketball [see what I did there? ;) ] you can sustain long term damage. This is not exactly recent news. The NFL has taken steps to reduce contact to the head, including holding players out of games if they show symptoms of concussion. There have been legitimate attempts to reduce the risk, but as in any contact sport it will always be there, and the people who choose to participate are aware of this.

    2. Did his being a football player contribute to or cause Ray Rice to clock his girlfriend? People from all walks of life engage in behavior like this. It appears to me some pieces like this one attempt to create a cause relationship between the sport and what athletes do away from the field. That kind of thinking seems faulty to me. Does rap music/culture CAUSE many rappers to engage in violence against women? I don't think there's any way of knowing if that famous rapper/athlete wouldn't have hit their girlfriend if they'd chosen to be a car salesman instead.

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  31. “The mix of sports and politics seems perfectly natural to us. We’re made to think it’s not political at all, that it’s just the way it is. And this is how ideology works: It naturalizes ideas and images that deflect attention away from other realities. And this is where it really starts to matter.” - David Zirin

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  32. I agree with your premise and have for many, many years.

    However, there are a couple of statements that you make that you need to reconsider.

    1. "Goodell knows that, on a very fundamental level, we watch football to be spared reality."

    If that statement is true, then we need to throw away all the papers written on the subject by trained psychologists!

    2. "Deflating a ball is a crime only in Goodell World, where the fraction of people who give a shit about it is only slightly greater than the people who care about it in real life—which is zero."

    That statement is not only false, it's either simply ridiculous or written by a Patriot insider.



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  33. Well said, Lund. While I was reading, it took me back to my High School days - my school was big into football. The illusions and fluff you describe re: the NFL sounds like my high school magnified several orders of magnitude. "Famous people" replace with "popular people". Maybe that's why the NFL is so American.

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  34. Come on, Jeb. No love for convicted real estate fraudster Zygi Wilf bilking half a billion dollars out of the Minnesota taxpayers?

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    1. I admit that I really fucked up leaving him off my worst owners list. It was just a total brain fart. He definitely belongs on there.

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    2. He's the best one because he looks like Wario

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  35. Goodell isn't so stupid as he is evil. That is if you equate prostration to mammon, distortion of truth, and perversion of morality as evil. If you simply regard those things as business as usual then he is a pretty smart cookie. Not that he doesn't put his foot in it on a regular basis, which can and should be lampooned, like the antics of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il. Funny, but mostly evil.

    I suspect one of the reasons RS spiked this piece is because the premise "Goodell is an idiot" is false. Another one is probably all the vitriol, which at once makes this both a fun read and completely biased. If Mr. Lund had only written in a more objective voice, his salient points would have undoubtedly reached more readers.

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  36. You're welcome to suspect, but that wasn't the reason. You don't even have to look to me personally to counter that argument; this is the magazine that used to print Hunter Thompson saying things like, "Hubert H. Humphrey is a treacherous, gutless old ward-heeler who ought to be put in a goddamn bottle and sent out with the Japanese current."

    Or, failing that, you could check my archive, where they were happy to print my Florida Gubernatorial race piece in which I referred to Chris Christie "getting probed more than an alien abductee in This Ain't The XXX-Files: A Porn Parody" and the sitting Florida governor as having "all the charm and human relatability of a dripping sack of bleached tumors."

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Et tu, Mr. Destructo? is a politics, sports and media blog whose purpose is to tell jokes or be really right about things. All of us have real jobs and don't need the hassle that telling jokes here might occasion, which is why some contributors find it more tasteful to pretend to be dead mass murderers.