NFL, Brett Favre and Concept of 'Love'

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[Caution: Commentary below. No objective stats to be found in this post.]

It's the Christmas season, so it's a fitting time to ponder the concept of love.

I've been taught a lot about love this season, mostly by people such as Chris Berman, Steve Mariucci, and Jon Gruden. According to them, Brett Favre plays football for the love of the sport. He loves the game so much, he's willing to go out there and risk severe injury, just so that we can enjoy watching him perform.

Brett Favre himself tells us how much he loves the game. His official personal website is titled For Love of the Game. And in his press conferences, he routinely and openly ponders how much left he has to give. Vikings fans aren't quite sure what he's been giving them, and I'm sure many of his teammates are now wondering what he has left them with.

We're told Brett Favre loves football, but what does that mean? What kind of love is that exactly? Love as in I love my kids? My dog? Pizza? Guacamole? English is a strange language when it comes to the word love. We use the term for so many things, from our desire for some McDonald's french fries right now to our favorite TV show to our undying selfless sacrifice, joy, and pride in our children.

The ancient Greeks had at least four different words which would all fall under our modern umbrella of love. Agápe referred to deep virtuous love or unconditional sacrifice. Éros referred to passionate love, as in "being in love" longingly but was not necessarily sexual. Philos referred to a general love such as for family and close friends. Storge meant natural affection, such as that felt by parents for children. Author C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book titled The Four Loves that explored the nature of love.

Maybe the Greeks could use one more. It would be called Phávros, as in the love Brett Favre has for the sport of football. But what exactly is the nature of this kind of love? Is it selfless sacrifice like agápe, or is it something else?

I have to confess I love donuts. It's my Kryptonite. Put a donut in front of me, and I'll eat it. Put a dozen in front of me, and I won't stop eating until I pass out in a diabetic coma. At the end of the day, neither I nor the donuts are better off. This really isn't love of any kind. It's more like a craving, and I think this is really how Favre loves football and the attention it brings him.

Is Favre really giving anything? Is there truly anything selfless in what he does? Retiring and un-retiring, first on the Packers, then on the Jets, so he can change teams, is that selfless? Does that put the team first? Even his record-smashing consecutive start streak, while at first may seem a selfless devotion to his team, probably isn't. He almost certainly played in games in which he held his team back more than helped due to injury, but played on anyway.

Given what we know now about Favre, I think part of his insistence on playing had to do with keeping the streak going, but I also think he wanted to make sure the spotlight never shone anywhere else but on him. The thing he may have feared most is that Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck, or Aaron Rodgers might get significant playing time and possibly play as well as he did, diminishing his legend. I can't help thinking of Favre's infamous quote about it not being his job to help mentor Rodgers when he was a rookie and his heir-apparent.

This isn't intended to be an attack on Favre so much as it's a critique of the fawning worship by so many members of the media. Favre is human and has his foibles and has made his mistakes, just like the rest of us. I'm sure he's done some wonderful things for his friends and family, and certainly he's given money to charities including breast cancer causes. What I object to is our culture's deification of a man who is so clearly self-obsessed and who rarely passes up an opportunity to put himself first. He undermines his coaches and teammates, viewing his teams as vehicles for his own glory and little more. We've got things backwards. Whether we're talking about football or donuts, it ain't love.