It’s nice to know, during any given American disaster, that there are other people out there who understand that what is happening is deeply stupid. It’s nice to hear someone articulate the nature of that stupidity, clearly expressing our dim but deeply felt annoyance. To rally around someone who says, We’re not all as dumb as we look, and we’re not going to let you pull one over on us again. This is why Stephen Colbert’s smug ignoramus character resonated so much at the height of the Bush administration, underlining the ascendance of aggressively dishonest rhetoric in lieu of facts and reasoning. And it’s why a guy on the Internet pretending to be a stupid, race-baiting football fan is now our country’s most important public intellectual.
That guy on the Internet is PFTCommenter, a pseudonymous, as-yet-unmasked presence on Twitter, SB Nation, Kissing Suzy Kolber, and the new, facetiously named StrongTakes.com.* His name stands for “Pro Football Talk Commenter,” a reference to ProFootballTalk, a website whose comments sections are notorious wastelands of macho posturing and racism. He is a parodic manifestation of the worst impulses of hype and inhumanity that surround the National Football League. In the NFL’s Ray Rice fiasco, PFTCommenter has met his match: a situation that is as relentlessly horrifying and stupid as he is.
If Stephen Colbert is a “high-status idiot,” PFTCommenter is a low-status one. His concerns are the concerns of America’s dumb, horrifying id.
He praises his own masculine toughness.
He overpraises moderately skilled white players for their blue-collar character attributes and slags black players for being selfish and overrated. He is willing to argue endlessly, truly endlessly, about such meaningless nontroversies as whether Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is an “elite” quarterback. He can’t spell or punctuate. If he were real, he would currently be listening to his eighth straight hour of sports radio. And he eagerly takes the truth-y NFL party line on every possible issue—for example, last week’s game between Ray Rice’s former team and the Pittsburgh Steelers, a franchise that is led by a man who’s been the subject of multiple sexual assault allegations:
This credulousness is what makes PFTCommenter the ideal foil for the league’s handling of the Rice situation. The NFL has little regard for fans’ critical thinking skills. Initially, the league and the Ravens tried to revive Rice’s good name with an avalanche of smarmy redemption-narrative PR: the Ravens’ VP of public relations wrote an article called “I Like Ray Rice,” the team’s Twitter feed noted that Janay Rice “deeply regrets” her role in the “incident,” and BaltimoreRavens.com announced that fans had given the running back a standing ovation during a preseason appearance.
When reality—in the form of the TMZ elevator tape—undermined the Rice redemption story, the NFL responded with smarmy obfuscation and disingenuousness. Roger Goodell explained that the NFL had done its best to find out what was on the elevator tape (an assertion disputed by the Associated Press) and that Ray Rice’s personal account of events had created ambiguity (an assertion apparently disputed by Rice himself). The commissioner’s cascading series of ass-covering ex post facto punishments of Rice—conducted while abusers like Greg Hardy have yet to be punished by the league—has made clear that the NFL’s strategy on domestic violence is more or less press release-based. (On Monday the league announced that it has hired three women and promoted another “to strengthen our ability to address the wide range of issues we face.”)* The league counts on the support of the (shrinking) group of apologists who want to rationalize away the league’s exploitative cynicism so they can get back to watching games. PFTCommenter is the biggest apologist of them all.
Of course, press releases and furrowed-brow statements of principle aren’t just weapons that the NFL uses to combat the Ray Rice story. You’ll hear the same concerned tone in the league’s discussions of Washington’s racist team name and the dangers of concussions. As it happens, here are PFTCommenter’s thoughts on concussions from an email interview I conducted with him last week:
Coaches these days arent tough like they were when I played in High School before I got injured. I tell the neighborhood kids that I try to coach that if your seeing stars its because your heads in the clouds son. You got to jog it off if your brains nicked, not lock yourself in a planitarium with a icepack and a “doctors” note. The jurys still very much out as to weather or not concussons even exist, and until its proven Im going to err on the side of caution instead of going around telling people theyve got CTE.
He added that serially concussed Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker should be allowed to play: “Im a coach I say the dumber the better for my Wide Recevers, you dont want them thinking to much out there. You know who else was too smart for his own good was Hitler and he thought his way right into a whole heap of trouble if you ask me.”
The Rice situation should have been easy to handle—the man was videotaped knocking a woman unconscious!—and its botching suggests that the NFL shouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt on anything. If Goodell does get fired, PFTCommenter has a thought on who might replace him.
Correction, Sept. 15, 2014: This article originally misstated that the NFL hired four women “to strengthen our ability to address the wide range of issues we face.” The league hired three women and promoted one. (Return.)