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By Andrew Tsou
Football season is well upon us, that glorious time of year when the roads are finally drivable on Sundays and errands can be run without the shopping districts being overrun by black-and-gold splattered Yinzers.
There are other benefits, of course. The requisite water cooler conversations about a topic which is entirely meaningless and alien to me (“So did ‘ya hear about Big Ben?” “Uh…did the minute hand break off or something?”), the regional pride that decades of medical innovation and scientific breakthroughs have never been able to equal…yes, the camaraderie stimulated by the Steelers is inspiring, not least because it embodies that uniquely capitalistic bent for apportioning high wages for thoroughly useless “jobs.”
Consider that, in the 2009 season, the 25 highest-paid players received over $12 million each (http://content.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/salaries/top25.aspx?year=2009).
That is part of the appeal, one supposes; we all envy these people who don’t even need to be attractive in order to rake in the money. Football recalls an old-time America, one that the progressive era unfortunately wiped away, a world in which men were dominant and women were, at best, sex props, a world in which brute force was the measure of a man (indeed, a time when “being a man” meant something).
“I believe the game is designed to reward the ones who hit the hardest,” Pittsburgh Steeler Jack Lambert once said, “If you can’t take it, you shouldn’t play.” (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10248/1084845-148.stm)
The thuggish masculinity that male Steelers fans tend to revel in is particularly curious when one considers the homoeroticism of the sport of football. When burly men with exaggerated shoulder blades spend a few hours tackling each other, the charge of latent sexuality masquerading as controlled violence cannot but be expressed. Indeed, a Time article published over 30 years ago describes football as a “homosexual ceremony” (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,946181,00.html).
I have never been fond of stereotypes, but in my experience, male football aficionados tend to be amongst the most laddish of people, worshipping a cast of all-male idols while insisting that, despite this pantheon, they would never consider the possibility that they might be (let us all whisper it now) slightly attracted to other men.
Perhaps this sublimation of their latent interests is symptomatic of their general desire to not only conform, but to aspire to be “good men,” as society dictates. “Good men” bed as many women as they can and, perhaps more importantly, are winners. In fact, it’s enough to merely identify with winners…for as long as they’re winning, that is. If you aren’t the “best,” forget all other factors; you’re worthless.
I can testify from personal experience that in January of 2006 (when the Steelers were at the Super Bowl), the word around town was, “We’re great! Pittsburgh’s great!”
The next year, when Pittsburgh’s finest were in a losing slump, the general attitude regarding the team was a dismissive, “Ah, they’re all bums.”
At least the stadium’s no eyesore.