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Murphy: Dispatches from another NFL weekend in Knuckledragger Nation

Fights in New England and racist targeting of the Vikings' Mattison are yet more examples of NFL's coarsening culture.

We are past the point of no return here in Knuckledragger Nation, otherwise known as the NFL’s boorish consumer base.

Land of the chronically overserved, the phony-tough and perpetually aggrieved. A fantasy world where betting, booze and brawling entitle un-masculine grown men in jerseys to check adulthood at the stadium gates and lineup submission.

A 53-year-old Massachusetts man went to the Patriots game Sunday night like he had for 30 seasons as a New England season-ticket holder. He was autopsied two days later after getting into a fight with a Dolphins fan.

Dale Mooney, husband and father of two, was cold-cocked unconscious, though authorities have said his death was the result of a "medical issue" and he didn't suffer a "traumatic injury" from the punch.

Meanwhile, Vikings running back Alexander Mattison spoke publicly and reflectively this week about the horrific, racist, death-wishing messages that slithered into his social media feed after he fumbled during Minnesota’s ugly loss to Philadelphia.

But heaven forbid ABC Sports show us a replay of Nick Chubb’s knee exploding Monday night after he was tackled during Cleveland’s loss to Pittsburgh. Whitewashing pro football’s inherent violence in the name of audience sensitivity is beyond hypocritical while the league and networks roll around in mountains of gambling cash like pigs in slop after decades of stiff-arming Vegas.

I have no problem with legalized sports betting or the smartphone delivery system that has fans mainlining point spreads and parlays in the open after lining bookie pockets for years in the shadows. But the denial and privilege it has spawned are spreading like a cancer through our already coarsening culture, empowering friends and neighbors to dive into the mud with the dregs of society and say to hell with decorum.


The white hoods of the KKK have been replaced with the cloaks of keyboard anonymity. There is zero risk spewing N-bombs and "I-hope-you-die" poison on Instagram when hiding like cowards behind avatars. Why?

Because you fed the grocery money and mortgage into the fantasy football and FanDuel casino expecting to beat the house only to bust. If there was any street justice in the social media swamp, someone would flip a light switch, expose these trolls and watch them scatter like cockroaches to the unemployment office on Shame Island.

I am as addicted to the NFL’s pure heroin as the next guy. The weekly narratives and made-for-TV drama are the best unscripted entertainment on the planet, as the television ratings and bottomless pools of revenue have shown us for more than 50 years.

The NFL has its hooks in so deep to the American psyche it has become too big to fail. To genuflect to The Shield requires self-awareness most would rather not discover. 

There is a seedy underbelly in this sport that simply does not exist elsewhere. It requires all of us to confront what we see in that deep, dark truthful mirror every time we banshee scream for vengeance in earshot of children because of a blown call or turnover; every time the injury cart scoops up another wounded warrior and drives him to an uncertain future; and when inhibitions vanish after the third bonged shot of Crown Royal from a parking cone six hours before kickoff.

It has always fascinated me that people will spend hundreds of dollars on a ticket, hundreds more on a tailgating open bar and melt their credit cards at the concession stand only to barf in the concourse or pass out in their seats and miss half the game. 

We’re told most fans, particularly season-ticket holders with considerable skin in the game, are well behaved and determined to identify troublemakers. Watch how many were eager to whip out their phones and start recording Mooney throwing haymakers at Gillette Stadium before he was loaded into the ambulance. Noon kickoffs are no better than 2 a.m. last call, when false pride and bad decisions lead to arraignments and disgrace.

Mattison reported receiving 60 vulgar messages and slurs from brazen trolls that encouraged him to kill himself. Other players have had racist messages burned into their lawns or left in their mailboxes. 

"There’s a lot of fantasy football people out there and they think that it’s all fun and games," Mattison told reporters this week. "We have families. We have people that love us, people that we’re doing this for. Not a fantasy, this is real life."

These are table stakes for African American players who provide much of the on-field thrills and bloated stats these dolts need to validate their fantasy world. And these are the consequences of carousing in Knuckledragger Nation. Avoiding the harsh truth is living in denial.