Romancing the Stone

Football is the singular professional sport in which surveillance is an active part of its operational and tactical strategy. Even baseball, the supposed "American Pastime", does not internalize the gaze to nearly the same degree. This is why football has truly become the New American Sport: it presents a model, not only of the nation's military-industrial complex, but of its cozy affiliation with the political mechanism of surveillance.

Pantactilism and simulation also feature prominently in the model of football, which perhaps even more than baseball is all about numerically measurable conflict situations: 2nd-and-4 or 3rd-and-8; up a touchdown or down by a field goal, at the 50-yard line or in the red zone — the list goes on and on. And the entire time, a co-ordinator sits upstairs and reads percentages and probabilities from a database for the appropriate and decisive end action to take in each situation.

Besides the obvious portrait of professional football's excesses, this philosophical shift in the game constitutes what is the essential motif of Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday: the old-school coach, who smells the grass and the sweat and the pain, makes "gut" decisions immersed in the cacophony of the moment, while the new-school coach, who works in an aseptic space of pantactilism and simulation, makes decisions tightly integrated with his computer surrogate — coaching based on feel versus coaching based on felt.

Romance would have us side with the former, but reason, that niggling voice in the back of our minds, acknowledges the bankruptcy of this position and its path to pure defeat.


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