The can't-do nation

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - Ti mothy Egan

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.

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