If the Super Bowl, as it is called, is not over yet, I ardently hope that it soon will be. Every year at this time my indifference to professional sport becomes impossible to conceal. Super Bowl questions of amazing complexity are confided to me by male peers and those confused females who feign a thoroughly unwomanly interest in the vulgar maulers of the gridiron. Quickly, these sports zombies catch on that I am no more interested in the Super Bowl than in the Barnum & Bailey Circus, if there is a Barnum & Bailey Circus. From then on an invisible wall separates us. Never again, not even in the off-season, will intimacies be shared. I shall never hear what my ex-friend really thinks about some Cro-Magnon relict who bent a goal post while tackling an opponent.
There was a time when I admired professional sport, and to this very day I actually participate in amateur sport, but professional sport has become repulsive as the public use of snuff is repulsive, particularly if the snuff user wears white linen suits. Many discriminating Americans share my view. Sport in itself is perfectly wholesome, encouraging such noble values as fair play, perseverance, daring, competitiveness and fitness. It could not be anything but salutary for the citizenry of a nation to focus yearly on these values at some championship laden with traditions and honors. Such events bring the citizenry together.
But the humorless brutality of professional sport does not bring the nation together to observe shared virtues. Nor does professional sport's nauseating hype, its absorption with huge sums of money, contracts, endorsements and bizarre behavior -- all of which are no more relevant to sport than to ballroom dancing.
The hype, of course, is endemic to our culture, but in recent decades this hype has become almost barbaric. The Liberal brethren have long beheld America's appetite for hype and held their noses. I admire them for that and would admire them more if they would restrain themselves from hyping their own political and cultural colossuses. Again, their disrelish for the mercenary impulse has merit, but when I see such Liberal exemplars as Arthur Schlesinger and the late Lillian Hellman flacking upscale essentials I lose confidence in their teachings.
In the old days, when I was an idealist, I would attend sporting events in hopes of seeing athletes overcome adversity with grace and sportsmanship. Today I have to endure semiliterate announcers hooting and hollering while some animal in a uniform taunts and humiliates a fallen victim. I have to endure strikes by mesomorphic millionaires blubbering their hard luck stories about how they suffer at the hands of Robber Barons. Many professional athletes show less devotion to their sport, their team or their fans than to their unlovely enthrallments to various corruptions. Finally, on the field many are plainly boring, afloat on drugs or overly protective of their million-dollar muscles, or, perhaps, overtrained. Whatever the cause, I prefer amateur sports for sport at its best.
The great professional athlete helped make America a sports-minded country by doing as Joe Louis did: performing stupendous feats without boasting or belittling an opponent. I am glad this professional football season again slipped past me almost wholly unnoticed. Whenever I did chance to see a few minutes of a televised game, I heard those dreadful announcers shouting their inscrutable commentaries -- if their literacy continues to decline, English subtitles for televised sports events are going to be a must. And I saw athletes who were unspeakably rude. Moreover, they did not seem to be having much fun.
Two hundred and fifty years ago the poet Alexander Pope observed that for the sportsman the ''delight is in the pursuit.'' Professional football players know no delight -- though not always. In leaving the locker room for the last time and after an unexpected loss, Walter Payton proclaimed: ''Over all it's been a lot of fun. When you take away the fun it's time to leave. That's why it's so hard to leave now.'' Then he expressed his gratitude for being able to have so much fun. Yes, he said that after a loss! I wish I had seen him in the Super Bowl this year.