A FAN’S NOTES, The Rumpus Sports Column #34: From Dallas to Eternity

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are headed to the Super Bowl yet again. It’s their third trip to the championship game in six years, despite a season shadowed by controversy. During the regular season—before the season started, even—the Steelers seemed to be in the news every week. By now we all know about QB Ben Roethlisberger’s disturbing activities in Georgia last spring (which I covered here) and we’ve heard plenty about his teammate James Harrison’s season-long struggle to avoid penalties for illegally dismembering opponents, or whatever you call it.

So enough about Pittsburgh. Let’s turn our attention to the other team playing in the big game on Feb. 6 in Dallas.

Who are the Green Bay Packers?

First of all, the Packers are the only team in the NFL owned by a hundred thousand fans instead of a single fat cat billionaire or a small corps of fat cat multimillionaires.

The team’s quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, reportedly likes turkey and avocado sandwiches, according to a woman who works at the deli favored by Packers players and their wives.

The team’s name comes from the Indian Packing Company, a business that briefly financed the nascent Packers in 1919.

Green Bay’s current coach, Mike McCarthy, grew up in Pittsburgh and loved the Steelers as a boy.

One of Green Bay’s wide receivers has the same name as the guy who wrote From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line.

Speaking of From Here to Eternity, did you happen to notice the revelations in 2009 about James Jones (the novelist, not the Super Bowl-bound wide receiver) being forced to expunge references to gay sex from his most famous book? This article explains it all. The brief passage quoted from the book is terrific, partly because it practically forces the reader to imagine Frank Sinatra participating in a dialogue about blowjobs (Sinatra played the character Private Angelo Maggio in the movie adaptation). James Jones’s daughter Kaylie, also a writer, recently composed her own take on the editorial exchanges her father had about the “salacious” (imagine Frank Sinatra saying that word) content in From Here to Eternity. All in all, this makes me want to actually read a James Jones book for once instead of just watching the film adaptations (Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line is especially good), and it makes me want James Jones the wide receiver to have a huge game on Feb. 6 for Green Bay… 150 yards, say, and two TDs, including a balletic toe-dance in the corner of the end zone for the winning score.

Apparently, in the early 1950s, James Jones the novelist fought for the gay references in his ideal version of From Here to Eternity. But eventually, after being told that the Postal Service might not deliver his books to stores, the writer agreed to extensive cuts. Anxieties about fictional depictions of gay sex aside, this is funny today because relying on the Postal Service to deliver texts of any kind is an increasingly quaint notion. In 2011, at long last, readers can get their hands on salacious stories instantly, via electronic devices that save them the potential embarrassment of walking trashy titles up to the register. (Apparently this newfound book-buying anonymity has meant big bucks for the romance genre.) Plus, when you’re reading a digital romance novel, no one else has to see the cover. In this way, at least, e-books may be enhancing our freedom.

The story of James Jones’s battle for the integrity of From Here to Eternity is newly relevant in the months following the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Some of his remarks to his editor more than half a century ago anticipate one side of the DADT debate: “[T]he things we change in this book for propriety’s sake will in five years, or 10 years, come in someone else’s book anyway … and we will wonder why we thought we couldn’t do it. Writing has to keep evolving into deeper honesty, like everything else, and you cannot stand on past precedent or theory, and still evolve … ” In the end, Jones insisted on keeping some of the so-called “homosexual scenes” because they reflected the reality he’d witnessed as a member of the Armed Services during World War Two.

Times change. But there’s one ad I doubt we’ll see during this year’s blockbuster Super Bowl broadcast: an Army recruitment spot encouraging gay Americans to serve in the military.


Brian Schwartz teaches writing at New York University. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in print publications on both coasts, and online at Ascent and Mr. Beller's Neighborhood. More from this author →