Trump, the impotent warrior: Donald's only exposing himself when he says the NFL isn't tough enough

Trump, like other chickenhawks, gets off on people taking physical risks he's too frightened to take himself

By Steve Almond
Published January 12, 2016 12:58PM (EST)
  (Reuters/Chuck Cook/Nati Harnik/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Chuck Cook/Nati Harnik/Photo montage by Salon)

Meringue-headed bankruptcy addict and part-time brandidate Donald Trump brought his unique brand of Borscht Belt fascism to Reno, Nevada, Sunday night and in so doing ejaculated one of the most amazing riffs in recent political history.

Trump was talking about our invasion of Iraq and how we hadn’t been man enough to convert that country into our own private gas pump, when he stumbled into an even more galling subject: how the NFL has gone wimpy.

And like everything else that gets sucked from the sludge of Trump’s juvenile subconscious into his conscious thought process, this prevailing theme of masculine doubt — more specifically, of lost virility — immediately attached itself to Trump’s larger conception of American identity.

You really have to watch the whole clip to grasp how voracious and impulsive Trump’s oratory is. He’s not just like some guy at your neighborhood bar. He’s the drunkest, loudest, most psychologically disturbed guy at your neighborhood bar. The kind of guy so insecure that he simply can’t shut up about all the millions of ways that America has gone soft, until you finally realize that he’s not talking about the country anymore. He’s talking about his dick.

So there’s your headline, folks: Donald Trump, impotent warrior.

But for those of you who have made the principled decision to not feed the Trump Troll, at least by watching video of him, let me offer an excerpt:

It’s a Sunday, who the hell wants to watch these crummy games? I just want to watch the end. By the way — OK, let me go there for a second … so I’m watching a game yesterday. What used to be considered a great tackle, a violent head-on [tackle], a violent — if that was done by Dick Butkus, they’d say he’s the greatest player. If that were done by Lawrence Taylor — it was done by Lawrence Taylor and Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke, right? Ray Nitschke — you used to see these tackles and it was incredible to watch, right?

Now they tackle. ‘Oh, head-on-head collision, 15 yards!’ The whole game is all screwed up. You say, ‘Wow, what a tackle.’ Bing. Flag. Football has become soft. Football has become soft. Now, I’ll be criticized for that. They’ll say, ‘Oh, isn’t that terrible.’ But football has become soft like our country has become soft. [Wild applause]

I’m going to skip past the part of the story where Donald Trump dodges the draft during the Vietnam era using a quartet of student deferments and flunking his medical in a manner he still can’t properly explain.

After all, Trump is another in a long line of conservative chicken hawks, guys who revel in talking tough from behind a microphone, while other men — invariably younger and poorer —  do the actual fighting.

This is the essential mind-set that binds militarism and sports in this country: The whole idea is to get off on other people taking physical risks you’re too frightened to take yourself. (I know this firsthand, because I spent four decades as a couch potato warrior myself.)

But what’s vital here is to show you, the reader, the precise hit that Trump was referring to, which took place at the very end of Saturday’s playoff game between the Steelers and the Bengals. This is it:

For those who choose not to click on this video, it shows Antonio Brown leaping high for a pass. He is unable to catch the ball and as he falls toward the ground Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict smashes his head with such violence that Brown appears concussed before he hits the ground. Replays of the hit show his head flailing, his body limp and contorted.

Even with the sanitizing presence of a helmet and shoulder pads, the savagery of the hit is impossible to ignore. “Oh my goodness,” one of the announcers says, in obvious distress, as Brown lies motionless on the ground.

So when Trump talks about the NFL going soft, what he’s saying is that the NFL should have more hits like this, and that any attempt to curb this level of brutality is an assault on the integrity of the game.

Anyone who’s been a longtime fan of football will tell you that this play bears an eerie resemblance to what is perhaps the most notorious hit in league history, the one delivered by Jack Tatum unto Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley, which left Stingely paralyzed for life.

What makes Trump’s comments so typically Orwellian is the fact that he’s using an instance of astonishing barbarism to suggest that football is somehow insufficiently tough. It’s the same desperate machismo that sees in the wreckage of Iraq not imperial hubris but an unmanly failure of will. Or that seeks to destroy fundamentalism by aping its intolerance.

The limp-dick rage that drives Trump and his movement is precisely what you see on the faces of hardcore football fans each Sunday. It’s predicated not on any coherent philosophy, but an improvised whim to affirm, empower and ultimately exploit our patriarchal pathologies.

That look of guilty pleasure is pasted on the faces behind Trump at every rally. Finally, someone is saying out loud what they can only think in most public settings. Mexicans are rapists. Arabs are terrorists. Women who pee are gross. Football players are killers. At least they used to be, back in the good old days!

This is the only song that Trump knows, so he has to sing the same lyrics over and over again.

It doesn’t matter that nearly a third of NFL players are going to wind up with brain damage. Nor that college and high school students continue to get paralyzed playing football. Or get their necks broken.

What matters most is that an aging plutocrat with a pathetic comb-over finds some way to keep his puckered and aging manhood erect.

That’s the ride we’re on, folks.

As for the NFL itself, Trump wants us to know that he doesn’t even watch the game anymore. It’s so wimpy now that it’s boring. It’s for losers. And it’s going down the tubes.

Trump is wrong about this, of course. Even with all we now know about football’s moral corruptions, the game has never been more popular.

If he had even a particle of common sense, Trump would take this to heart, because Trump and football are ultimately one in the same: childish endeavors, full of macho allure but devoid of any moral utility, and damaging to our national soul.

Despite the tug of our conscience, we can’t look away from the spectacle. We just keep watching.

Steve Almond

Steve Almond's new book is "Against Football." Follow him on Twitter @stevealmondjoy.

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Donald Trump Football New England Patriots Nfl Pittsburgh Steelers