(cartoon by the Chicago Tribune’s Drew Litton)

Of the National Football League’s distaste for New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ illegal bounties/bonuses, The Nation’s Dave Zirin writes, “Roger Goodell is nervous because if there is anything that could endanger the golden goose, it’s the idea that the 3.5 hours of commodified violence we hold so dear might have an ugly and invisible human cost.” All the more convenient for management, then, that many players continue to suggest (essentially), there’s-nothing-to-see-here.

The NFL’s website—think Pravda with better graphic design—seems to be saying by highlighting these comments, both “This violence will not stand” and “This is just the way things happen in the locker room.” All the sports radio debates have been framed the same way. One side is appalled that violent motivators like a “bounty system” exists. The other rolls their eyes and says, “It happens on every team. Get over it.”

This is an inherently dirty game with a real body count. Its main business isn’t a race to the Super Bowl but to present raw violence in a way that’s palatable for mass consumption. The more comfortable we are with violence, the more successful the NFL becomes. The minute we squirm, they lose. Like war, as long as the reporters are embedded and no one sees the coffins, business can proceed as planned. The tragedy is that often its only after players retire that they see the reality of an unequal partnership where only one side really walks away from the table.