Last weekend, Nickelodeon hosted an NFL Playoff game between the Chicago Bears and the New Orleans Saints. This idea would seem strange from the outside looking in, as the capitalistic concept of competition dictates that there should be one sole channel with the broadcasting rights to any one game. That would be correct according to its own internal logic; however, Nickelodeon and CBS are owned by the same company, so the logic of their parent company, National Amusements, won out.
However, the broadcast featured bespoke graphics, a separate production crew and a different broadcast team. That is quite the effort just to fill programming on a children’s cartoon channel. What did they accomplish?
There is a lot of discourse to be had about American football, and much of it is valuable, particularly regarding the links between Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and violence. CTE results from repeated head trauma. The English language tends to look down on endeavors that lead to this sort of injury — banging one’s head against the wall comes to mind. Why would anybody play football then? American football emerged from the aftermath of the Civil War. There was no more war left to fight. People had grown tired of banging their heads against the door that led to the answer, “Yes, people should have agency: slavery is bad.” However, they had grown accustomed to it.
Rutgers University hosted the College of New Jersey for the first game of intercollegiate football. Going off Rutgers’ account of the game, it was distinctly different compared to the game that we watch today; each team consisted of 25 players divided into defense, a sort of midfield and scorers; teams scored points by kicking the ball across a goal line, the predecessor to the modern endzone; players were not permitted to carry the ball.
Somewhere down the line, after arriving on these shores, the sport became a war game with human pieces. The ball was entrusted to the team’s best pair of hands, errant evaluations would be penalized by those who would seek to stop them. Battle lines were drawn, whose subversion would be penalized by impartial observers. Chances to move the line were afforded to each side; failure to take advantage of them would be penalized. Surrender was encouraged at the expense of unchecked ambition. The sense of self and agency can be lost in a game that asks one to forgo their own thoughts and feelings for the betterment of the whole. In his book, “Principles of Football,” John Heisman cites these aspects of the game as a method of self-improvement, and there is a kernel of truth in there: there are a lot of things in life that are beyond one’s own control.
However, blind acceptance of discipline and punishment in pursuit of an abstract endzone worth a socially constructed point value is folly. People died playing a game justified as self-improvement. This was normal. CTE is contracted through the brain violently shaking within one’s skull. According to the Boston University CTE Center, the disease is primarily experienced by athletes and military personnel.
The kickoff show gave us a look under the sea in the lovely town of Bikini Bottom from which Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller treated the audience to the wonders of democracy, presenting the audience with “The SpongeBob SportsPants Countdown Special.”
The presentation featured many fan-favorite moments, from the battles waged between SpongeBob and fish out-of-water-in-water Sandy Cheeks to Gary’s failed foray into the realm of snail races. Segments featuring Larry the Lobster, the pinnacle of physical excellence, frequently featured the music of Sam Spence, who often contributes to the soundscapes that adorn NFL Films productions. SpongeBob’s frustrated attempts at capturing a jellyfish in his net also stood out amongst the selections. However, none of these scenes won the popular vote.
The electorate awarded that honor to “Sweet Victory.” The song serves as the climax to an episode in which Squidward is trying to prove his worth to Squilliam. Squidward and Squilliam had been peers in band class, and here Squidward went on to become a deeply pretentious clarinetist who earned his living working the cash register of the Krusty Krab. Squilliam became a deeply pretentious band director who enjoyed tormenting the less fortunate.
The episode starts with a telephone conversation between Squilliam and Squidward as the Bubble Bowl, the show’s riff on the Super Bowl, is imminent. Allegedly having more important things to do, Squilliam commands Squidward to take the gig in his stead. With neither the resources nor alleged talent of Squilliam, Squidward is forced into a difficult situation. All the players are deeply incompetent.
Patrick Starr gets in a scrap with Sandy Cheeks that finds him shoved into the instrument through which he will need to express himself when the time comes to perform. A fight breaks out between the players the night before the performance. Squidward despairs.
Seeing this, the stubborn, fiercely industrious, yet well-meaning SpongeBob delivers a speech to his fellow bandmates. The next day, Squilliam shows up to see Squidward’s train wreck of a performance. He had lied — he just wanted to see his perceived inferior fail. But they do not. They triumph.
All the evidence seemed to state the operation was doomed to fail, but it did not. They managed to find something within themselves that even impartial observers were unable to perceive. Games play no role in this episode, yet the voters evaluated this as the peak of sports in the series.
In spite of the aforementioned contradiction, two teams played a game. In a bespoke clip prior to kickoff, Sandy spews jargon to the point of incomprehensibility while SpongeBob and Patrick grapple with her words’ meaninglessness.
While the game produced new clips of the denizens of Bikini Bottom, its best product was the broadcasting team, featuring Nate Burleson, Noah Eagle and Gabrielle Neveah Green. Burleson’s career as a player proved valuable to the broadcast team. He was able to contextualize what was going on in the game by relaying his lived experiences. Eagle brought the more esoteric knowledge that he accumulated growing up as the child of a sports broadcaster. What Sandy had spewed out ad nauseum, he articulated with ease in a way that was accessible to the younger target audience. Finally, Green brought fun into the mix. As an actress, she knew how to grab and direct the attention of the audience into places where it would be helpful.
However, the most valuable lesson gleaned from the broadcast of the game itself was a relative view of reality. This happens frequently on the gridiron. The sport of American football has been built upon social constructions. Possession of the ball is in the eye of the beholder. The ball is snapped gradually, yet the rules dictate a strict binary of snapped or unsnapped. The quarterback’s cadence is allowed to draw the defense offside, yet using pre-snap twitches is not. In spite of these contradictions, they were still able to build consensus for the most part, which seemed good.
And yet, the electorate chose Mitch Trubisky for NVP. NVP is a mimicry of the acronym MVP with no internal logic. Nickelodeon Valuable Player is meaningless unless the company selected the player, but that was certainly not the case. Trubisky was by no means the best player on the field. While all things are relative, he played relatively poorly. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the only beauty to be found in Trubisky being named NVP was verbal irony.
Verbal irony is valuable, but a democratic process may not be the best place to express it. Additionally, the voting method was flawed. Bad faith actors were able to take advantage of the fact that they were able to vote multiple times to stuff the box so to speak.
One of the other problems with the system was the fact that the ballot for NVP only included a handful of players. Any one of those players chosen to be on the ballot may have ended up being the most valuable player, but the possibility that the best player was left off remains. The ease with which the box was stuffed and the number of ways by which it may have been stuffed calls into question meritocracy.
However, facts and logic, most notably a Barstool Sports bigwig actively telling his followers to stuff the box, can reveal the truth. Pure relativism is not useful. Only a fool determines their beliefs based purely on whether their version of reality is possible. But the fact remains: while this was just a game, the electorate chose Trubisky for NVP.