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Gridiron Gang


How football makes Americans

We begin in a bad neighborhood. Gangs have replaced families. Street shootings & armed robbery are common; fathers are abusive or absent, mothers helpless. The men running a prison for young boys – young barbarians who have luckily survived the onslaught of barbarism – decide to redeem them through football rather than treat them like criminals.

The Mustangs is the name given to the boys’ team. Mustangs are horses brought to America which became wild; they could, however, be captured & tamed. They were smaller than domesticated horses, but faster & had more endurance. The men believe these boys should not go on killing & getting killed. Therefore, the prison becomes a training camp – playing football becomes the way to being a good citizen.

Football prepares soldiers: Boys gain strength, speed, & endurance as they grow up; together, they gain cohesion, drill discipline, & an understanding of hierarchy; they learn about uniforms, teams, victory, defeat, & deadlines. The necessity of a harsh neighborhood is replaced by the necessity of obeying authority in prison. The latter is safer, but it humiliates pride & offers no path to distinction & excellence for the manly impulses in these boys. Prison creates a weak sense of self-restraint, which is entirely new to the boys. Their neighborhood had created a weak sense of courage, hardly distinguished from insanity. Neither, however, has a teaching of justice.

Justice is taught by their coach. He claims his authority over them is not a social convention, but a fact of life. Necessity drove them to misery & delivered them into his hands. Now they will obey him because he is superior. In return for their obedience he will educate them & make them strong. The rule of the strong & the rule of the wise are not distinguished here, because of the great harshness. Neither are justice & necessity really different.

These boys have done evil; their loyalties are tribal; they chase brutish pleasures; they do not make plans, promises, & laws; – they are as nothing, knowing nothing about what is around them. But do not disregard them: They are harsh, but harshness is required in dangerous times. Perhaps their families could be replaced by a family that protects them & gentles their habits somewhat. They need authority to guide them.

Hatred & fear can be cured – if they learn they are strong together. But they must ensouled to become soldiers – they must learn what the highest good is: they must learn sacrifice. ‘Be all that you can be’, ‘creativity’, & ‘positive thinking’ will not help them. They need a faith than can redeem evil. Nothing else will help the lawless, for necessity has made morality seem unserious to them.

A fine movie about taming young men