Duck! Football and religion

Phil Robertson

Mr. Phil Robertson, reality TV star of “Duck Dynasty” (photo via NY Daily News, –containing GQ logo)

This post is a speculation on the football/bible connection. We hypothesize that football traumatic brain injury is self-medicated with bible study.

But first, the tee-up:

Duck Dynasty has something like 14MM+ viewers per episode, and so we tuned in to see what it’s all about. (Normally we watch laff-a-minute C-Span.  Or TMZ, because it reminds us of our old haunts near LA). The show Duck Dynasty is about middle-aged, zz-top-esque brothers and their families who live around Monroe Louisiana, and run a duck call manufacturing business.  With their korny-with-a-k antics that always end the episode with the family becoming closer together, we don’t care if it is scripted, it is just kooky enough to be entertaining.*  Our favorite is Uncle Si — YOLO stands on every corner and calls his name! Gimme some of that tea, you ol’ cray cray #ohsi!

So after binge watching, we are now emotionally connected with the Robertson family, and sort of consider them an unsettling, distant relation in the Southern branch of the Swivelchair family tree.

But, now the Duck Dynasty franchise is reportedly in jeopardy due to controversial statements by the patriarch, Mr. Phil Robertson.

The kerfuffel is because Phil reportedly stated the following views on homosexuality:

It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.

No Phil, most of humanity is not logical. That’s where emotion comes in. Perhaps Phil — an otherwise intelligent and capable person — has a tough time understanding human emotion. (And we’re taking the liberty of calling him “Phil” because after all, he is in the Swivelchair fictional family.)

Now, this is speculation upon a persona this person has chosen to express to the public — who knows, it could be over-the-top just for show-biz. So grain of salt, and we certainly don’t want to insult anyone.

But, when Phil opines that homosexuality is not “logical,” we get why he would say that — Phil has a tough time with emotion. (Of course we disagree, we’re only trying to understand what’s going on). If you don’t get human emotional attachment, mating is pretty much aesthetic– frictional in nature, devoid of emotional attachment. And then he adds the judgment that being gay is bad, because the Bible says so (“sin” — plus there’s more Bible explanations in the GQ article).

Now, we’ve seen sociopaths be truly stumped about why you can’t just mate with whomever you want, and what’s the big deal? One of the best cinematic examples of this is Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), who shows total confusion as to whether his son can date his adopted daughter (the son’s adopted sister). “Yeah, sure, it’d be OK,” Royal first says, then, upon getting a weird look, he says, “well I guess some people might not be Ok with that.” (Not an exact quote, you get the drift.) He has no idea of what’s wrong with that. 

So Phil — in assuming sexual orientation is a choice — and, presumably not understanding the emotional bonding between mates — falls back to aesthetics, which is hole is better, frictionally?

And then he doubles down, re: the Bible.  Phil responded  to critics, giving the vibe that all of this is a misunderstanding, because they love everyone according to teachings of the bible:

 I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.

The family also responded, indicating that they are not inciting hate, but rather expressing views that they are Constitutionally entitled to express.**

And so we took an interest in Phil, and how his straight talking views ended up being so offensive. At base, Phil’s statements show a lack of empathy, and recognition of emotion, so we’re going to explore that. 

Phil was born into poverty, to a mother who was repeatedly hospitalized for psychiatric issues. He played football for years, and could have been a pro football player. Somewhere in there, he married and had children, and got a college degree and a Masters (ok, maybe this was for draft-avoidance). But, after all that discipline, he reportedly fell into alcoholism or other substance abuse. He abandoned his wife and children during this period, and had run ins with the law, in part, for allegedly beating people up. After hitting bottom, he had a religious conversion and rebuilt his life, and achieved business success.

So Phil’s brain appears to have had the deck loaded against him. Maybe he had inadequate nutrition as a child. Maybe he got unlucky genetically for mental health.  Maybe he had some post-traumatic childhood wiring, from a disabled mother. Maybe (and given recent reports, I’d vote likely for any high school/college football player) — maybe this is a case of traumatic brain injury. And then, drugs and alcohol ran down even more brain cells.

We don’t know. We’re guessing.

Interestingly he attributes his getting back on track not to the love of his family, but rather to the Bible and religious teaching.

We’ve seen this football –>bible thing, especially in the US bible/football belt.

Is it related?

In sociopaths, the failure to have compassion seems to be related to disconnected brain wiring. The frontal lobe — the reasoning part of the brain — gets disconnected from the emotional parts of the brain (to oversimplify, but we’ve blogged ad nauseum about it here for the past almost 7 years so read the blog if you want to know more.)

And, with a disconnect, you just let ‘er rip. Things can go south pretty quick — you lose the family, money, friends, resort to drinking. Some people hit bottom. Others are just afraid of being found out so they invent a fake public persona (which is a lot of work).

So (and let me test this theory) they want to find a play book, so they don’t always have to think so hard to not screw up. An external control, in place of an internal one. Something that makes them not have to cognitively work so hard to live in a world where emotions are required. Also something soothing, meditative, repetitive.

Like, say, religious texts.***

The Bible is a good play book, for the most part (I’m no biblical scholar, and I mean the whole Cain and Abel thing isn’t a great DIY idea, so there’s that). But, if you follow it and someone complains, you can just point and say, “hey, it’s in the bible.”  Plus bonus points because you get to join a club (the church) where everyone helps you out. Not a bad deal if you’re trying to turn your life around. (There are also parts of the brain that presumably relate to spiritualism and the need to believe, but we’re not putting those in this post, to keep it simple.)

But more than that is brain rewiring — just by doing something new. Did you ever notice how Phil is always reading the bible? And can recite chapter and verse? Maybe that is how he saw the light — by rewiring his brain away from bad stuff.

Recent research demonstrates that playing Tetris or other computer games helps to defeat flashbacks from post traumatic stress. We guess that a distraction rewires the brain — with repetition, growing new new brain connections to dilute fear pathways. (I thought there was a paper discussing mode of action, but I couldn’t find it, so I’m guessing here.)

Does the Bible — and specifically studying the Bible, over and over — also rewire the brain, away from addiction and self-defeating behavior? It may be the bible-belt equivalent to meditation, in terms of quieting brain activity.

Are there football traumatic brain injuries that Bible study can rewire?

Is that why there’s so much Football in the Bible Belt? Or Bibles in the Football belt?

 * What is it about beefy, middle-aged men in peculiar businesses getting high TV reality-show ratings? See Pawn Stars. Or Storage Wars. It’s like the masculine version of the Real Housewives, sort of.

**The family stated: “Phil would never incite or encourage hate. We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right. We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm. We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty.” [Swivelchair translation: "Such contract break. Wow. Much new show on other channel. Much money. Such Constitution. Wow."]

***We’re not saying the converse: religiousness does not mean lack of affective empathy. Another post, another time.