America’s complicated NFL obsession, perfectly captured in 1 Vine

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The NFL is awful, enabling woman-beaters, drunk drivers and other ne’er-do-wells to earn millions of dollars while raking in billions in profit and paying little heed to the short and long-term effects of a dangerous game on the health of the men who make it a gold mine.

The NFL is glorious, an entertainment spectacle like no other in sports, a home to mind-boggling feats of athleticism and will power, and an indelible piece of American nostalgia.

ESPN commentator Chris Berman perfectly — albeit unintentionally — summed up America’s complicated current relationship with its most popular sports league during a season-opening Monday Night Football game between the Chargers and Cardinals.

During a lull in the action, Berman began waxing pseudo-philosophically about the importance of making Ray Rice’s mistake a catalyst for positive change. Then — well, just watch the video; comedy writers couldn’t have scripted this any better.

Berman has earned a reputation among football fans as something of a buffoon, and he had a wincingly bad night in the broadcast booth on Monday, so he’s something of an easy target. But that moment! It’s just. So. Perfect.

We learn, through a painstakingly reported book called League of Denial and its companion documentary, about how the NFL actively tried to obfuscate research on the debilitating effect a lifetime of tackle football can have on players’ brains.

We get outraged. We send tweets. We bemoan the ugliness of it all. Then: Holy crap! Did you see Calvin Johnson last night!?

We rant and rave about how terrible Ray Rice is, and about how the NFL has a domestic violence problem that’s certainly growing in visibility, if not actual scope. We rake the league for how it handled his suspension. We bemoan the league as craven and dastardly. Then: Dude, my fantasy team is totally kicking ass right now!

America’s relationship with the NFL is more tense, more complicated, more conflicted than ever in 2014. You have to wonder if the Ray Rice saga and the NFL’s tone-deaf response to it represent some kind of turning point, but the arc of change is long, so only time will tell. I know I’m not the only fan struggling to reconcile my fervent anticipation of Sunday with the icky feeling induced by all of these events. And to be fair to Berman, that was a hell of a play.

For now, the most important thing to remember, the one thing we as fans really must keep in mind not to lose sight of the bigger picture, is this: No matter how much you enjoy the NFL, you just — AND THE PUNT IS BLOCKED!

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