Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The owner of the National Football League's Miami Dolphins was meant to meet with disgruntled player Jonathan Martin today. That meeting has now been postponed at the league's request, as it investigates Martin's allegation that he was harassed by a teammate.

Our commentator Frank Deford says football has taken another blow to the head.

FRANK DEFORD: Not surprisingly, in the explosive revelations about the Miami Dolphins team turmoil, most attention has been paid to the fact that, in the midst of a locker room predominately composed of African-American players, a white, Richie Incognito, slurred a black teammate, Jonathan Martin, with the ugliest racial epithet and was actually publicly supported by some blacks on the team.

Incognito's sadistic employment of the word has not only sickened but also astounded most of us. However, I would submit that once we accept the inherent racism in this one dismal affair, the greater lasting impression will be to damage the sport of football itself, for the broader implications illustrate again how brutish our most popular American game has become.

When the scab was peeled back off the sad episode, what was revealed was a savage culture where intimidation was common, where bullying was the accepted order of the day, and where you almost had to believe that some active players had to already be brain-damaged to so blithely put up with such inhumanity.

And the only defense applied was: Well, boys will be boys, even when they're grown men - and hey, locker rooms are different. It doesn't work, thank you.

All sorts of selective associations - clubs, societies, fraternities and sororities - exist with their own traditional private standards and idiosyncrasies. That's the nature of the beast. But just being different doesn't excuse institutional malevolence.

Football has always boasted to young boys that: It will make a man out of you. You never hear that from our other most popular team sports, baseball and basketball. Their appeal is that it's enough that you can enjoy participating in group activity, perhaps excel at it, but really no differently than playing in a school orchestra or the cast of a play. But what we're seeing now in football is a definition of manliness that is uber-macho. To be that kind of a man, you must be mean and insensitive.

So here is the long-term conclusion. The number of kids playing football is plummeting, down 13 percent in just the last two years, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. And an HBO "Real Sports"/Marist College poll, shows that the danger of football concussions would make a third of Americans less likely to let their boys play.

But now the view that has emerged from the Dolphins locker room goes beyond that and suggests that modern football is so violent, even thuggish, that it can damage your soul as well as your brain. How many more parents will keep their sons out of the football locker room, under the assumption that there are better ways to learn to be manly?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Frank Deford joins us every Wednesday.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford