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Gristmill: Anything Goes

Wed, 01/10/2024 - 16:57
Vice paradise: the Las Vegas Strip.
Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Viewers still on a high after all 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds of a barely in control Josh Allen slung, scrambled, and bulled his Buffalo Bills to a thrilling fourth-quarter victory over the Miami Dolphins on “Sunday Night Football” understandably may have stuck around for the reliably engaging postgame chatter.

Only to be confronted by a segment sponsored by DraftKings, the sports betting outfit, in which it was touted how all manner of oddball bets, from very small to somewhat large, on a running back’s yardage here, the number of turnovers there, paid off for what is in no way a representative sample of the larger group of bettors. 

As the N.F.L. goes from looking the other way, to embracing betting, to full-on promoting it, this is cheap, sports fans. This is shameless. This is embarrassing. And it is vulgar.

Which you could see on the face of Matthew Berry, the bald, 50-something commentator roped into the flackery. Berry’s got a brain; he did some writing in Hollywood earlier in his career. He was therefore uncomfortable, more worried looking than usual. He didn’t want to be doing it.

He’s a fantasy sports guy, which is how he was tapped for the stats and numbers detail in the first place, but somehow the fantasy stuff is more innocent, almost like role-playing Dungeons & Dragons, or flipping baseball cards. The addiction’s cute, not debilitating.

This is the way it is now in society. Anything goes, and you’re a prig or a hypocrite if you take issue with the new permissiveness.

Still, one consequence of this complete capitulation to corporate interests is a phenomenon I heard of from my college-age son: the hundreds, nay, thousands of dollars that young guys regularly blow on sports betting. Simple fandom isn’t enough these days, you have to have skin in the game.

Is it rank moralizing to point out that maybe some social controls make sense? That maybe some lids should be kept on certain base impulses?

The Second Amendment guarantees complete access to any kind of firearm at all times and in all places. There’s nothing we can do about it. Ubiquitous digital pornography is okay precisely because it’s ubiquitous and because there’s nothing we can do about it. Our kids’ iPhone habits are compromising their intellectual development in a massive generational social experiment we don’t even understand. But they need them to communicate; there’s nothing we can do about it.

I’ll make a bet that none of this is sane.


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