The can't-do nation
When does football become more than a sporting event? It's not when the president comments on the redemption of a player who served prison time for a vicious felony. That's a slow news week. Nor is it when a former Super Bowl quarterback crudely hits on a young woman not his wife or girlfriend. That's an even slower news week.
But when a game that was supposed to be played in a face-lacerating blizzard by bare-armed behemoths is postponed because of the weather, then it's an affront to national character.
"My biggest beef is that this is part of what's happened in this country," said Ed Rendell, the outgoing governor of Pennsylvania. "We've become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butts in everything."
A miserable trade balance. Loss of manly essence. Decline of the republic. All of this because the game between the Philadelphia Eagles at their adequate outdoor stadium and the visiting Minnesota Vikings was moved when the big snowstorm hammered the East Coast. Rendell was just getting warmed up.
"If this was China, do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down."
Calculus! Don't those Chinese even pause for a bratwurst or a sip of beer at pregame revelries? And what kind of a tailgate party would that be?
Rendell's comments in a radio interview, coming at a time when sloth is the seasonal mode and decline talk is a subtext of ragged economic blues, set off a lot of people.
The most articulate of scolds can warn about how far behind the rest of the world our students are falling, about the frightening implications of a three-fold rise in child obesity, about the importance of a work ethic coupled with American creativity - and the country is barely stirred.
But let someone suggest that a football game can't be played in the snow, and you've got real trouble.
It's bad enough that a winter storm can ruin a politician. Witness the hit to his reputation that Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey took for leaving his state to misery while he vacationed in Disney World. Or the painful sight of Mayor Michael Bloomberg getting sarcastic - "I regret everything in the world," he snapped - in response to criticism.
Now, snow is weighing down a game that is already far too-burdened with larger implications. We don't walk 10 miles to school in a blizzard anymore, but we do put on face paint and display bare torsos while watching appliance-sized men who make more in a week than most Americans earn in a year bash each other. It's diverting, and - aside from a few atrocious losses by my hometown Seahawks, the Barney Fifes of football - mostly rewarding.
What's truly wimpy is telling everyone to go to the mall and shop while putting two wars on the credit card and committing countless lives to mortal danger. This advice by then-President George W. Bush gave the majority of the country no reason to sacrifice - just chant "U.S.A.!" and wave some flags.
What's wimpy is Sarah Palin equating Nanny State intolerance with Michelle Obama's campaign to get children to exercise more and improve their diets. Eat smores, Palin implored, as a patriotic act of defiance to Big Government. This assertion is an affront to every genuine act of political disobedience, let alone the epidemic of childhood obesity.
Rendell is a gregarious, likable politician, and I'd hate to see him muzzled. But he's wrong to equate one delayed football game with the collapse of American values. For that matter, can we just liberate football as a stand-in for anything other than football?
Sure, the suits who run the league are killjoys for moving the Sunday night contest. Anyone who's played pickup football in the snow knows the lasting thrill of catching a pass between snowflakes. And some of the game's greatest contests - the Ice Bowl in Green Bay, the Snow Bowl in New England - would be nothing without the weather.
But a nation of wusses? Sorry, governor. Talk to the clerk in Queens who walked five miles in the snow to his job at Sears because his bus never came. Or the elderly people, shivering without power, forced to cut pills in half because they couldn't get out and refill their life-saving prescriptions.