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Saturday 16th Dec 2017

It just so happened that following the Ravens' triumphant victory over the Steelers Thursday night, my favorite sports movie--"North Dallas Forty"--was on cable.

I have seen the film, based upon the novel by former Cowboy Peter Gent, and based based upon the career of Raider great Fred Biletnikoff a bunch of times, particularly right before the Super Bowl because it reminds me about the bottom line between sports and business.

What I love about "North Dallas Forty" is it was the first film to realistically look at pro football, at the machine that drives the game, and the impact upon the players living in the isolated bubble of the NFL.

To a degree, the now infamous Ray Rice incident has certainly pointed to this, as there is surely an "old-boy network" attitude where the league will protect its own, up until a point.

Never before--and the film was made in 1979--had a story been so honest about sex and drugs and racism in professional sports, just like never before had the indulgences of the successful money generating players, like QB Seth Maxwell--played brilliantly by Mac Davis, and loosely based upon Don Meredith--get a blind eye from the powers that be, while an aging and ostensibly interchangeable part like Phil Elliott (Nick Nolte) cannot afford to breathe wrong for fear of being cut.

Within the film, we see the North Dallas Bulls as they go through a week of practice as they prepare for a potential playoff game with the rival Chicago Marauders.

We see the aftermath of Sunday play, a day off and subsequent after-game party that shows menacing athletes howling at the moon in an effort to subvert their own potential weaknesses.

We see the politics and pressure of ownership, publicly embracing rules and lines of decency as long as they don't compete with success, while passively condoning any deviant behaviors as the mood strikes them.

The problem is that the players are as vapid and self indulgent as the front office, making for a freight train of self righteousness and lack of critical thought about the game or how it is administered.

The players, that is save Phil Elliott, who does question and wonder and for the most part see incidents and teammates and coaches largely for what they are, as opposed to what they think, are blissfully ignorant of much of anything beyond their own needs. As long as the team is winning, ownership plays the same head in the sand game.

But, in the 35 years since the film was released, as we have seen over the past few weeks, very little has changed in the front offices aside from the fact that the league has more money and power than ever.

There is a fabulous scene near the end of the film, where a player (no name in the cast, but played by former Raider great, the late Lyle Alzado) reams out coach Johnson (Charles Durning), screaming that every time he calls it a game, they call it a business, and every time he calls it a business, they call it a game.

That says it all, aside from Nolte, at the end of the film, being threatened with release by the team for violating the morals clause of his contract (he is photographed smoking dope with Maxwell by a Dallas policeman who works undercover for the NFL, spying on potential problem players, although no one in the front office or the league seems to be able to recognize the team's QB).

Nolte quits, walking away, noting to his Tom Landry-like coach that it is indeed time to put away childish things.

Somehow, in watching the insane machinations of the league and Roger Goodell over the past months, all the movie does is confirm the worst and most self indulgent about what has become the biggest economic sports entity ($10 billion a year) in our land.

Over the past months, I was watching the great HBO mini series "Rome" with Diane. I watched it when the show was first presented back in 2005, but Diane had never seen it.

Over and over, as we watch petty behaviors and political backstabbing and silly wars waged as much out of ego as anything, I have looked at Diane and said "2000 years ago, and very little has changed in our human nature, save the Roman politicians were a lot more cutthroat and serious than wimpy morons like John McCain and Louis Gomert and Dick Cheney."

So much for nothing changes, everything changes.

If you think it does, I am happy to bet by the football playoffs Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice won't even register a blip and spousal abuse will go back into complacency, under the radar of the interest level of America, being of slightly less notable than the next Super Bowl Budweiser commercial.

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