We tolerate what happens off the field because of what happens on the field.
We love football because the game of football is better than it has ever been, and is somehow managing to attain, at the same time, an apogee of opprobrium and excellence.
Yes, this is a pigskinned version of what may be called the foie-gras argument: “But it tastes so good!” It also may seem self-evident to anyone with more than a passing interest in the sport. But it’s worth elaborating on because most of the arguments against football don’t bother taking football into account. Football endures because football, more than any other sport, evolves, leaving previous iterations of itself in the dust. Let’s say the modern era of sport began in the 1980s, when athletes across the board had won a share of power, when corporate sponsorships had taken hold and there was real money to be made. Many of the athletes and teams from that time match up well with the athletes and teams of today. Sugar Ray Leonard takes Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a fistfight because he makes it a fistfight. Magic Johnson’s Lakers rise above Stephen Curry’s Warriors in six. The ’86 Mets prevail over Keith Hernandez’s habit of smoking in the dugout and beat whoever it was who won the World Series last year in a seventh game. It is only football, as played by even average college and pro teams in 2014, that would be unrecognizable to the players credited with inventing the modern game at “the U” and at Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers. This is not to say that there are no players from those teams who could compete in the modern game. It is simply to say that the modern game of football did not begin in the 1980s, or in any other far-off decade. It began last season. It will begin again when this season starts.