Henry Rollins: Football, Violence, and America
[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
A few Sundays back, in a room full of celebratory people, I watched Alicia Keys sing the national anthem before the start of the Super Bowl. As she began, the room quickly went quiet out of respect and because of how well she performed. She was incredible.
As she sang and played piano so beautifully, I could not help but juxtapose this massive event, attended by more than 75,000 people and watched by millions more, with the quiet, sad work being done in preparation for the funerals of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield. Both Navy SEALs were allegedly shot and killed by an ex-Marine at a shooting range in Texas days before the game.
It is sometimes difficult being an American. We often are tasked with having to take the very good with the very bad in equal measure and still keep going. Somehow we do it.
The game is about to start. There will be a lot of very strong men colliding repeatedly, stunning feats of physical prowess, expensive and humorous advertisements that you will actually want to watch and a halftime show that will be talked about for weeks afterwards. All of this is going to happen while the deaths of two men are grieved.
This is what I was thinking about as I watched wide shots of the thousands in New Orleans standing as Ms. Keys played. The cameras briefly cut away to a group of soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan, the image making "The Star-Spangled Banner" all the more poignant.
In this single instance, you see the history of America. There is Alicia Keys, the daughter of a biracial couple, singing the lyrics of Francis Scott Key, a slavery advocate, in easily one of the highest-profile appearances any performer will ever make. We have come a long way, and there is a long way to go. Change and progress are not easy to establish or promote.
In a recent interview, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would not acknowledge a link between the brain injuries some players suffer and the playing of football. He danced around the issue, and it's easy to understand why. Literally thousands of lawsuits have been filed against the NFL by retired players, many of whom say that information on brain injury in football was withheld from them.