War and football have this in common, quoth the ascended master of gonzo journalism: “They are both profoundly violent and cruel and utterly unforgiving, and they both require public brutality by people wearing elaborate uniforms.”
Football has been much on the mind of the good Dr. Thompson (Kingdom of Fear, 2003, etc.) for decades, and especially now that he’s reassumed his erstwhile role as sportswriter, this time for ESPN’s Web site. ESPN is to be commended for bravery, even if its editors take pains in this collection of columns to distance themselves from Thompson’s views—for, aside from his trademark championing of the use of adult beverages and pharmaceutical treats, he has also had war on his mind since the ascendancy of George W. Bush, whom Thompson calls “a baffled little creep” and worse. This is about sports in the same way Lolita is about sex: which is to say, not much and not often, and then mostly as an obsessive undercurrent in a discourse given over to other things. Sports fans should take interest nonetheless in Thompson’s rants about the decline of the NFL (“There are too many teams and not enough quality players”), sportswriters (“a rude and brainless subculture of fascist drunks”), pitchers (“pampered little swine with too much money and no real effect on the game except to drag it out and interrupt the action”), and sundry other athletic topics. Thompson’s real constituency, which may care little for events on the playing field, will revel in the same intemperance directed to matters set on a larger stage, ranging from war and its consequences (“American troops are killing journalists in a profoundly foreign country, for savage, greed-crazed reasons that most of them couldn’t explain or understand”) to the surreal consequences of drug-fueled conversations with film celebrities, as with Thompson’s weird fugue involving Sean Penn, a Saudi princess, and Homeland Security—a piece worth the price of admission all by itself.
A treat for Thompson’s many fans, though guaranteed not to earn him many admirers among the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld believers.