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Original Issue


American ingenuity gave us lightbulbs and polio vaccines and is now devoted to delivering beer to sports fans in ever more novel ways. There's the "punch-top can," the "vortex bottle" and the "cold-activated" label: When the mountains turn blue, we'll know the beer is cold. We pair those beers with frozen pizzas whose instructions include "Remove from box" and "Do not eat frozen."

At games, the national anthem still requires its own explicit instructions: "Please rise and remove your caps...." The caps of the beers have been removed for us, lest they be turned into projectiles.

And so we pose an indelicate question to you (yes, you, contentedly chewing the cardboard box to get to the frozen pizza inside it): Are all of us getting dumber?

The question is offered without judgment, in the spirit of scientific inquiry: If there were a billboard that kept track of our national intelligence quotient, would the number on it be in free fall, like the national debt clock in reverse?

Just last week, a middle school football coach made national news for refusing to hold his team banquet anywhere but Hooters (page 30). He was fired, of course, but retained the courage of his convictions, and in doing so became a hero for the 21st century, the wind beneath our (buffalo) wings.

At roughly the same time, Adam Pardy of the Winnipeg Jets was getting checked through the glass and into the stands at the United Center in Chicago, where one fan immediately removed the defenseman's helmet while a second poured her beer over him. (The beer poured beautifully, it must be said, a feat of modern engineering.) The first fan stood smugly until security found him, which didn't take long, as he was the guy wearing Pardy's helmet on his own head.

And why not? Dumb is the new smart, something to be proud of, flaunted, worn defiantly. A day before that meathead removed Pardy's helmet—please rise and remove someone else's cap—the mayor of Toronto announced that he wouldn't resign because, in his own defense, he only ever smoked crack when he was in a "drunken stupor." Mayor Rob Ford's necktie, as he spoke those words, was festooned with the logos of NFL teams.

The NFL had bigger problems, consumed as it was by The Incognito Affair (as Robert Ludlum might have called it). Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito's hazing of teammate Jonathan Martin (page 18) was defended by many as an exercise in team building, part of "locker room culture." That phrase may conjure images of the Mona Lisa getting pied, or Michelangelo's David wearing a jockstrap full of Icy Hot. But in fact, the word culture derives from the tilling of soil—think of cultivate—and thus is whatever grows in a particular place: We reap the culture that we sow.

By that definition, locker room culture is very much a part of the larger culture, in which education or sensitivity or an open mind are too often to be concealed. In movies and commercials, the archetype of the modern man is the bejerseyed bro in thrall to fantasy football and cheese puffs, and forever struck dumb in the presence of women.

You may not be dumb yourself, but you need only read the trolling comments appended to news stories—or listen to a call-in-radio rant—to be exposed to the scourge of secondhand Stupid. Such ignorance is a badge of honor, worn on the sleeve—or just below it. Incognito has a tattoo on his left biceps that reads MADE IN THE USA. "Not made in Taiwan," he once said. "Just a good old American boy."

There are occasional signs that suggest our neck of the woods isn't getting dumber. Our "locker room culture" can look more enlightened than ever before on many important subjects, from head injuries to homophobia.

But then you attend a basketball game a week after the Sandy Hook tragedy, and there's a pregame moment of silence for the victims, and that silence is shattered when a cellphone rings behind you, and the owner, unbelievably, answers it. As he conducts his loud and long conversation, you wonder if our collective IQ hasn't already fallen below some intellectual Mendoza Line, from which it can never return.

Locker room culture reflects the larger culture, where dumb is the new smart, something to be proud of, flaunted, worn defiantly.

What's the dumbest thing to happen in the sports world this week?

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