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Cultural Capital

Everything Glows and Nothing Hurts in the World of the Jets’s ‘Hard Knocks’

Jets head coach Robert Saleh's gleaming, bald noggin is a beacon calling us to dreamland in this exquisite propaganda.

And when they say the party’s over, then we’ll bring it right back. (HBO / NFL Films)

In a stylishly shot montage near the beginning of this season of HBO's football training documentary "Hard Knocks," newly-minted New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers performs gratuitous tricks with the football, throwing precision missiles at targets in a montage soundtracked by Ed Sheeran's "Shivers." Every sneaker and tooth on every Jet is spotlessly white, diamond jewelry sparkles, and men devote themselves to the theater of training for the upcoming football season. 

A co-production of HBO and the NFL's internal production company NFL Films, "Hard Knocks" is an exquisite piece of propaganda. Interspersed with the scenes of on-the-field glory are the indoor sessions, which seem like the most fun college class of all time. Think "Orientation Week" of college, but for a month, and for twenty-something elite athletes. Oz Pearlman, a mentalist, calls up running back Michael Carter by name and tells him to turn around and pick an imaginary, random number to go on an imaginary jersey; giving examples, he absentmindedly counts up to nine, and then down from 70 in increments of ten. The number having been thus incepted, Carter picks ten, and the crowd goes wild. The next trick Pearlman does with wide receiver Mecole Hardman is more impressive, predicting Hardman's Super Bowl prediction, Jets 31 to San Francisco 49ers 21. For the finale, he makes a caged goldfish appear in Rodgers's clasped palms.

Aaron Rodgers discovers he is holding a goldfish. (HBO / NFL Films)

Outside of the college-style hijinks, the testosterone surges, helmets and bodies crunch. The brutality is always present. But inside, the rooms are silver and full of light. Players, knowing they're mic'd up, build their personal myths. "I have to be a leader on and off the field," an aspiring roster member promises over footage of his college graduation. In the background, you can almost faintly hear the money machine of the NFL print dollar after dollar. Narrator Liev Schreiber's voice shines down, intoning paternalistically that "Aaron Rodgers is money," and that "few players are as in command of the field as Aaron Rodgers. Sometimes it feels as if he knows every blade of grass." And Rodgers is Christ-like, serene and always with a far-off look and a slight frown. In a Quarterback meeting room, Rodgers and his backups, all golden-haired white men, confer over game footage. They joke, but with Rodgers, even his smiles betray that there's something more on his mind. 

I've been receiving emails from the publicist for the Journeyman Collective, boasting that their "luxury guided magic mushroom retreats" has allowed Rodgers to "reach the next level" through treatments that include psilocybin and ayahuasca (I've reached out to the Journeyman Collective for comment, and will update here if they do). What did he see there, on the next level? Don't you want to see it, too? I sure do. I'll keep watching "Hard Knocks," where Jets head coach Robert Saleh's gleaming, bald noggin is a beacon calling us to dreamland. Isn't this the world you want to live in? If you believe that "Hard Knocks" is real, it can be. The contracts are for $96 million, but the "main thing is not the money, it's leaving a legacy."

Let's be here forever.

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