Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Post-Modern Critical Theory and Sports Media

How shall we describe Post Modernism? As that thing that follows Modernism? "Modernism" was the name given to the intellectual trends of a democratizing Europe, shedding the vestiges of Christianity and the former political order while maintaining the social framework and preserving it during a transition to a new society more in conformity with the beliefs of those who sought to usurp the usurper capitalists and eventuate an egalitarian populace. Post Modernism is what comes after that....

Modernism, meant in its philosophical and not Pian usage, was an abject failure. For all its manifold errors, and there were many, it rightly assumed objective truths could be found given the right frame of mind. Advocates of Modernity often did not believe in God or the value of marriage—one example among many—and hoped that with efficient and accessible rhetoric the masses would meet their conclusions. Post Modernist critical theory contrasts starkly with its Modernist antecedent. The Post Modern critical theorist hopes to alter perceptions of reality by means of his critique. The difference is subtle in approach yet drastic in effect.

The most prominent example of Post Modern critical theory in action can be seen not in the New York Times, nor on the campus of some dreadful Ivy League school, but on ESPN, the Disney owned sports media channel. For the last several months this channel has given near daily coverage to the second to last player picked in the NFL draft, a defensive end named Michael Sam, for no reason other than that the player in question is openly gay.

Sam admitted to his homosexuality some months ago and has garnered relentless media attention ever since. In college Sam had a productive, although over-achieving career. During the Combine, a physical skills test for NFL scouts, he performed poorly and his draft stock tumbled. During the draft—seven rounds during which each of the thirty-two teams pick—Sam fell and fell and fell until the St. Louis Rams (my favorite team) picked him second to last (the last player picked is called "Mr. Irrelevant"). Sam then gave his significant other a peck on national television, dealing a blow to remaining decency standards everywhere.

Where critical theory enters the matter is here. ESPN, hoping that this man would be selected in the third round, has allowed commentators to go on air and writers to publish articles on their website which speculate Sam was picked so low because he is gay. I agree with them, although not for the reasons they give. Given his average physical talent and his marginal success against elite opponents in college, no team other than the Rams thought he was worth the trouble. With him, every day of training camp, would be a media circus, an inundation of questions about the gay political agenda, about his "making history," and pressure to put him on the team for reasons un-related to sports. The Rams either took the risk on him because the pick was so low that they would not lose anything if they have to release him or because the pick was so low that they could afford to bring the press attention to themselves. Either way, the days of Kurt Warner are long gone in St. Louis.

ESPN's talking heads, Skip Bayless among them, insist that it is the NFL's uneasiness with gay people forced Sam's drop in the draft. He was so good in college, how could he not go in the top three rounds of selection? Sam is a trailblazer, a bold pioneer for gay rights in their politically correct minds and their agenda is entirely focused on political correctness. The NFL is not anti-gay. The NFL is not anti-anything if it will cost them money. Really I cannot think of any non-governmental business in these United States more disconnected from its fans than the National Football League. A few weeks ago the League banned use of the infamous n-word, that mispronunciation of the word Nigerian so commonly used in Southern America to describe black people derisively and by black people in America to describe each other casually. Use of this word now warrants a 15 yard penalty and probably a fine. Going back to the Michael Sam issue, a player on the Miami Dolphins found the aforementioned smooch distasteful and was suspended and fined by his team.

Most telling about the entire affair is the comment box section below articles on ESPN's website. As a rough guess I would estimate upwards of 80% of fans are tired about Sam's sexual preferences being used to excuse his low selection and the endless coverage of him. NFL fans in America are as average as can be. They are a broad cross section of the country, white and black, rich and poor, and unlike the other major sports leagues the NFL has a not insignificant female following. The NFL has a reputation as being a part of Americana. The fans right now, reflective of the nation at large, are not very interested in the gay agenda, but they are not exactly anti-gay either, at least not as the press imagines them to be. So the press engages in Post Modern critical theory by constructing a straw man, a red herring narrative of discrimination against Sam, an active adversity opposing the "rights" of oppressed people such as himself. Recently I have heard him compared to Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson in baseball (who, unlike Sam, were good players). Yes, the fans see through it, but they will still go to the games, buy their tickets, buy their merchandise, buy their television viewing packages, and watch the Super Bowl. And then when this generation of fans dies their children will have known nothing but the modern and accepting NFL, epitomized by its hero Michael Sam, who so bravely stood athwart the bigotry of the day to bring people like him to the NFL. And that new generation will think its fathers foolish.

This pattern occurred many times in the past. Most prominently it transpired on American university campuses (or should that be campi?) after World War II. Prior to the War the great American institutions had minimal exposure to the growing Marxian schools in Europe and the sexual radicals like Freud and Simone de Beauvoir, although Freud did give a series of lectures in the United States. G.I. loan bills in hand, many veterans sought education after the War and were shocked to find atheism, Marxism, and leftist party politics occupying the lecture halls of the greatest of schools. William F. Buckley Jr's God and Man at Yale is indicative of the reactions wrought by the paradigm shift. Buckley recounts that the head of the religion department called himself "80% atheist and 20% agnostic," quite a change given that Yale's president mentioned Christ prominently during the commencement exercises just years earlier. Buckley's generation, the "Greatest Generation" as Americans call that group, did not lose its faith. The universities did not succeed there. The universities did succeed however in creating a newly presumed norm though, wherein God does not exist, a socialized economy is an inevitability, traditional social frameworks are at best antiquated and at worst indicative of backwardness, and those who oppose the myth of progress are stupid bigots. The children of the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, went to college two decades later and swallowed the new story hook, line, and sinker. Beneath the white picket fences, the chromed cars, the new televisions, the burgeoning wealth, and the post-War confidence, a new America was fostered. The facts did not change. The narrative changed, which in turn changed the facts.

Was not this the plan of the dedicate Post Modern critical theorists at the universities all along? Is this not the plan of ESPN with regards to Michael Sam? Dare I ask, is this not what happened in the Catholic Church in the 20th century?


  1. Amen. See the article; Michael Timmons on The Athlete as Revolutionary: Spartacus and American Sports


    ESPN, like the entire sports bund, is suffused with indifferent liberals anxious to curry favor with those who due the engine of social change.

    Just try to imagine just how long a sports anchor would keep their job if he stood athwart history yelling, "stop."

    It won't happen for they know on which side their bagel is buttered

  2. I'm not so sure your culprit is post-modernism so much as the desperate attempt to re-create the mythical version of the story of the Civil Rights Movement. The narrative that gets told may be the dominant myth of the age, causing many to see *everything* through that lens and causing many others to want to constantly re-create it. So we develop a ritual where we try to find and sacralize every "first" we can find, or make up, or manufacture. Sports may be the worst about this because of it's integral role in the Civil Rights Movement, which in turn got integrated into the founding mythos of many sports. ESPN is really just following the ritual here, unable to see the false equivalence because this myth is so ingrained in how they understand the world. It may be more pre-modern than post-modern in that way. A true post-modern wouldn't be able to believe the myth so naïvely.