Flowers: Don't blame the game

Brett Favre, volunteer coach, with the Oak Grove High School team before a 2011 game in Hattiesburg, Miss. Associated Press
Brett Favre, volunteer coach, with the Oak Grove High School team before a 2011 game in Hattiesburg, Miss. Associated Press
Posted: July 27, 2012

IN THE WAKE Of the Penn State sex-abuse scandal, a lot of people have been attacking "the culture of football," as if there were something inherently evil about the game. Sure, they try to make it seem as if the primary concern is for the victims, but you can't escape the feeling that even if Jerry Sandusky had never touched an innocent child there would still be people out-there bad-mouthing our real national pastime.

It's not as if the football universe hasn't made it easy to take potshots. At both the professional and college levels, we've seen bad behavior that goes well beyond unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness, situations that we in Philadelphia know all too well since we're probably the only professional team that drafted our QB from the University of Leavenworth.

And yet, I'm sickened by the rush to turn what is an anomalous, albeit tragic, situation into an indictment of anyone who ever put on a pair of shoulder pads. For every Jerry Sandusky, there has been a Vince Lombardi. For every Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress or Ray Carruth, there's been a Reggie White, a Brian Dawkins or Kurt Warner. And that doesn't count the quality of the people who play at the college and even high-school levels, that legendary breeding ground of Buzz Bissinger-style drama. There is good and bad in every endeavor known to man, and it is transparently opportunistic for child-abuse advocates to use this sad case to lodge an indictment against the "culture of football."

I was thinking about how poorly this whole mess has been treated in the media when I came across a throwaway article about my favorite "retired/not-retired/maybe-retired/damn he's still here!" quarterback, Brett Favre.

It seems that every year around this time, someone plugs the future Hall of Famer's name into a Google search and comes up with a juicy tidbit about a man who hung up his professional cleats but didn't go gently into that good night.

This time, it was about how Favre is going to be coaching — get ready for this — high-school football in his hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss.

This is a fellow who is so rich that the "1 percent" are protesting against him. This is a fellow who knows he'll be voted into Canton on the first ballot, give or take a few nay votes from those who remember that his incomplete passes weren't just on the field. This is a fellow who had one more comeback than Jesus.

So to hear that he's going to forego the broadcast career, the stint on "Dancing with the Stars," the deals with Nike and Jenny Craig and Cialis (he is over 40, after all) gives all of us a reason to smile just a little bit. That's because we're smack-dab in front of a genuine article, a throwback to the days of Shoeless Joe Jackson, someone who loves the game that he played for so long and so well that all he really cares about is being near it, in the purest form.

I can hear the obnoxious laughter, see the supercilious smirks, feel the derision. I know that there are people out there in the vast dark reading audience who think that this is a joke, this sense that a sport can be in any sense pure or beloved or without taint. And the situation at Penn State does support that view, since so much of what was done can easily be placed in the category of "let's not let this screw up a good thing, boys — keep the money rolling in!"

But contrary to what so many of the self-righteous pillars of piety have to say about how football poisoned the clean water of Happy Valley, the truth is that the game is a magnificent synthesis of mind, body and heart. It can be violent and uncivilized, and it may not be as useful to society as, say, the study of infectious disease, but I cannot imagine an October Sunday without the myth-making moves of a young Gayle Sayers, the journeyman efforts of a Herman Edwards or the quicksilver flash of a man universally known as Sweetness, Walter Payton.

After the slime that was the Sandusky scandal started oozing out of central Pennsylvania and into the tributaries that led back East, it was the easy and popular thing to start blaming football for all of the country's ills. Editorials were written about how the pursuit of gridiron excellence made Joe Paterno into a god and the rest of Penn State into his spineless minions. And they weren't content to stop there, as we saw when the NCAA levied unprecedented and completely unjustified fines against people who had no role and no responsibility in the destruction of innocence.

For that reason alone, I welcome any news story about Brett Favre. For all of his prima donna ways and his inability to keep his mouth or his pants zipped, his love of the game reminds me of why my heart still skips a beat on crisp autumn afternoons.

Christine Flowers is a lawyer. Send email to cflowers1961@gmail.com and read her blog at philly.com/FlowersShow. We invite you to comment on this story by clicking here. Comments will be moderated.

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