Home > Uncategorized > It’s time to stop watching football

It’s time to stop watching football

October 27, 2015

My husband and I have boycotted football. It’s hard, especially at this time of year when baseball is winding down, and our traditional Sunday and Monday night activities involve beer and relaxation while watching bunches of men in tight jumping on other bunches of men in tights (although the Mets being in the World Series certainly helps for now). I’ve been a football fan for more than 20 years, so it’s a deeply held habit.

Nowadays, though, every time I hear the familiar crunch of football helmets crashing against each other on the front lines or the receivers being thrown to the ground, all I can think is “concussion.” And it’s more than just one concussion, or even a few. It’s known to accumulate and lead to a serious and debilitating brain disease, called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Memory loss, dementia, that kind of thing, at young ages. Here’s a wiki page listing the players who are known to have CTE and who are involved in a lawsuit against the NFL for concussion-related injuries. The lists are far from complete. In fact, a recent study showed that 96% of deceased players suffered from CTE. So a good approximation of a complete list would be “all football players, ever.” Acute readers have pointed out that the group studied in this paper were self-selected, so there’s likely a bias involved. Even so, nobody would argue that football isn’t rife with CTE.

Here’s the thing. I have three sons, and I wouldn’t let any of them play football. So what does it mean that I let myself be entertained by other people playing it?

It’s similar with the military. I would absolutely avoid my sons entering the military if possible, because of the inherent danger. It’s an extremely privileged position to take, because I’m not claiming the U.S. shouldn’t have armed forces, but I would still act to prevent my kids from being involved, at least as it is now.

On the other hand, I am also fully aware that one reason we enter wars the way we do is that the children of the privileged are by and large not on the front lines. In other words, I am willing to engage in a conversation about what kind of army we would need to have, and what kind of military engagements we would enter, if everyone were a soldier for at least a little while, including women. In principle, it would be a better system. We would all have a serious stake in making it better.

Football is different, of course. Nobody needs to play football. That means I don’t need to consider sending my son, and other sons, off to training camp in order to have skin in the game. If the past few years of child abuse, wife abuse, and violent and criminal tendencies leaking out of NFL and college football locker rooms haven’t convinced us we need to clean that up, then I don’t know what would.

The analogy of the army and football is apt, however, in some ways. One of the most uneasy aspects of my enjoyment of football has always been the way the NFL and even college football coaches and media play up and play to the military aspects of the game. They talk about war, they talk about preparing for battle, they discuss the shame of losing a game as if it involved lives lost. They perform weirdly contrived rituals when there is military presence in the audience. It makes you think of the worst kinds of forced patriotism. Rudy Giuliani-ism, if you will. It’s not earnest.

And it’s too much. Last Saturday night I was having trouble sleeping so I listened to sports radio, which is what I do. Much of the coverage centered on the dismal performance of a Miami college football team in a 58-0 loss. If you didn’t know what they were talking about, the words they were using, and the coach’s interview, sounded like the end of the world. If I had been a player on that team, I might have considered suicide, it was so bad.

What the fuck is wrong with us? Why do we take these games so seriously? Especially when young people are concerned, it makes no sense. And I’m saying that as a huge sports fan: we need to realize this stuff is just a game. We need to enjoy the victories and ignore the defeats. And crucially, we need to treat college level sports like we treat minor league baseball, namely not that important because it’s young kids learning to play the game.

I’ve lost patience with the violence of it all. Kids are losing their lives from injuries, and better helmets aren’t going to fix this problem. The NFL is avoiding dealing with the problem, because there’s so much frigging money on the table. Instead they shove yet more military might talk and fake patriotism down our throats, hoping we won’t think too hard about it between rounds of beer.

So I’ve been boycotting football this season. I have meant to do it for a few years, but this season it’s finally stuck. That doesn’t mean I don’t encounter football by accident. In fact it happens all the time, because it’s everywhere. Just the other day I was at a bar with some friends and I went to order a beer, and looked up at the TV, and there it was, Sunday night football. The play had been suspended because a player was lying unconscious on the field. Another head injury.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. JasonM
    October 27, 2015 at 7:56 am

    im not sure I agree anymore with the description of these sports being “just a game”. It’s a billion dollar industry. At that point it’s a business, I believe.


    • October 27, 2015 at 10:32 am

      You’re absolutely right, Jason. Before we hastily conclude that football isn’t worth killing people over because it’s “just a game”, we should stop and seriously consider how much MONEY is at stake here. I mean sure, it’s one thing to say we shouldn’t kill people over silly little games that AREN’T worth billions of dollars, but when an industry is that profitable doesn’t that justify killing people with crippling brain damage for our vicarious pleasure?


  2. October 27, 2015 at 8:03 am

    The way the Santa Clara 49ers are playing this season, I too do not want to watch football, and since NY has no football teams I have little interest watching those two teams from New Jersey. 😉

    As for military service, without a draft, those who serve will usually be from the lower socioeconomic strata who need jobs. A draft, OTOH, would tear this nation apart, as it did in the 1960s with Vietnam.


    • October 27, 2015 at 9:57 am

      The Bills?


      • October 27, 2015 at 1:32 pm

        I should have written NYC, but you are right. I used to enjoy watching OJ Simpson while he was with the Bills, but the joy tainted after he murdered his wife. And although OJ played for the Niners as well, my memory of the Niners is Joe Montana throwing to Rice.


    • October 27, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      Well, we certainly don’t want to tear this nation apart. Not when we’re so busy tearing apart all the rest of them.


  3. October 27, 2015 at 8:11 am

    “The human tendency that Bataille sees at work in the potlatch is not aggression but death: the need to lose, the need to spend, to give away, to surrender; the need to /sacrifice/; the need for ruin.”

    Emphasis in the original, he could have been talking about football.

    This is from Dionysus in 1990, the final essay in Norman O. Brown’s “Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis.”

    Potlatch is glossed as Chinook Jargon, from Nootka /patshatl/ giving, gift: a ceremonial feast or festival of the Indians of the northwest coast given for the display of wealth to validate or advance individual tribal position or social status and marked by the host’s lavish destruction of personal property and an ostentatious distribution of gifts that entail elaborate reciprocation.


  4. DJ
    October 27, 2015 at 8:17 am

    The 96% study is from a self-selected pool of players — those who agreed to participate in the study. So it may not be representative. I’m pretty sure it’s fairly high in any case, but let’s not forget the power of selection bias.


  5. October 27, 2015 at 8:41 am

    A few points:

    Military service is still, to this day, the number one way for children in poor families to rise to middle-class status. I’ve known quite a few Marines who came from poor families but today have degrees (one in computer science!!) and now hold down a nice middle class job whilst still collecting their 20+ year retirement.

    People in the military have higher life expectancy while they are in the military than those who never join. Amazingly, the life expectancy drops significantly once people get out.

    Football is a contact sport, no doubt about it. And many of these players are millionaires. Not to mention that they surely knew what they were getting into when they signed up (or they didn’t care and just saw dollar signs). But football has been around for a long, long time and players didn’t always have the gear they have today so I’m surprised this is just now coming up. I have mixed feelings about this.



    • Kevin
      October 27, 2015 at 5:13 pm

      “(one in computer science!!)”

      I’m sure James meant well, but given the nature of this blog’s viewership, I find it interesting that no one else took it upon themselves to comment on the implications of his exuberance.

      I’ll bet if you swapped the word “Marines” with “women” or “black people”, however, the readers of this thread would be on him like a pack of rabid dogs.


      • November 1, 2015 at 6:27 pm

        What exuberance?

        Oh, and they’ve jumped all over me on this forum before. You probably just missed it.



  6. Peter
    October 27, 2015 at 8:55 am

    I am also boycotting football. It’s not JUST the head injuries. Every single week, some player suffers a catastrophic, life altering injury. Every season, one player suffers an injury so sever he may never walk again. The CTE is just the icing on the cake.

    The usual argument is that they know the risks and they’re in it for the money. My answer is a) that’s just the pros. What about all the kids who suffered their injury in college? They never got a dime. And b) compared to the owners, who are printing money and taking no risk whatsoever, well, I call bullshit.


  7. sam
    October 27, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Dear Mathbabe
    I understand your decision to boycott professional football. But I don’t see the logical link between that and not letting your son’s play the game. Youth football is a completely different game compared to pro football. Your son’s are highly unlikely to play college football let alone pro football.

    Just because retired pro football players have high levels of brain damage does not mean you should prevent your son’s from playing youth football. I would like to see studies of brains of individuals who played youth football or even high school football, but did not ever play college or pro level footballl.

    I’m sure the brain studies of individuals who played youth or high school football would be indistinguishable from the general population.

    By disallowing your children playing youth football you are solving a problem that isn’t there and costing your son’s a valuable athletic experience.

    I would also like to see similar studies for professional soccer players. I understand that heading a soccer ball is also extremely dangerous to brain health. Should we also boycott the other sport named “football” as well?

    Again, I actually do respect your decision to boycott watching pro football. However, your decision not to allow your son’s to play football doesn’t seem reasonable or science based. Ex players of pro football have been exposed to a radically higher amount of brain trauma over time compared to anyone who played youth or even high school football.

    The other sports I suggest you consider boycotting are college football and basketball. These sports earn billions for universities while exploiting so called student athletes. What a horrible scam this is.


    • October 27, 2015 at 9:29 am

      I don’t think I have a problem with touch football. It’s when it becomes tackle football that the problems start. See e.g.: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Healthday/story?id=4507846


    • SomeDude
      October 27, 2015 at 11:44 am

      @Sam: Regarding safety of football at the high school level, please read the following article, the title of which is “Even a single season of high school football might have harmful impacts on the brain”


      @Mathbabe: I doubt I would be so open about encouraging my children not to join the military. I’m fairly certain military families would be rather offended by your reasoning.


      • October 27, 2015 at 11:47 am

        Certainly they would. But I am guessing they already know what I am saying.


        • SRL
          October 28, 2015 at 1:03 pm

          Also, once they are 18 it’s not like you could stop them from enlisting, and anyway most people in the military do not go anywhere near a combat zone. Indeed, for people who grew up in rough neighborhoods it may even be safer than staying home.

          Football, on the other hand, is probably more dangerous than military service overall because everyone plays. It would be interesting to see a statistical comparison.


    • October 27, 2015 at 12:48 pm

      Additionally to what @somedude is saying, there’s history of high school players dying related to heat illness and bad conditions, improper equipment, etc. particularly in low income districts. And to top it off, CTE has been found in kids as young as 18. http://www.bu.edu/cte/our-research/case-studies/18-year-old/ So not only is HS football dangerous to the brain (and body), many of these players will never see college/NFL level, and thus won’t ever be compensated for the trauma they receive.
      Also @sam CTE is not unique to American football. Hockey has been combatting it for years, and I believe it was first identified in boxers and other fighters. The biggest contributor to CTE is repeated, minor head trauma – not concussions. So any sport where there’s routine head hits (read: not soccer) could put players at risk. That’s why linemen usually have the most severe CTE – they’re receiving that trauma every. single. play.


      • nick
        October 28, 2015 at 7:35 am

        Are you kidding about soccer? Google “soccer head trauma.”


        • October 28, 2015 at 12:32 pm

          Oh my goodness I didn’t even think about headers. I stand corrected, you are very right.


    • TheQuietOne
      October 29, 2015 at 1:21 pm

      I’d keep my children from playing football because the coaches, even at the youth level, are assholes. I live next to a park where the local youth leagues practice. I’ve heard the boys called girls, ladies, pussies, wimps, etc. The coaches seem to think they’re delivering valuable life lessons, but they’re just teaching 10 year old boys to be dicks.


  8. Steve
    October 27, 2015 at 9:40 am

    Your observation about the similar language of football and war made me think of this hilarious skit from Inside Amy Schumer in the style of Friday night lights.

    Love your stuff – keep it coming!


  9. mathematrucker
    October 27, 2015 at 10:07 am

    Analogous to a single event causing someone to decide to quit smoking, while waiting in line at a convenience store watching an NBA playoff game on a ceiling TV in the late 1990s, when I saw Kobe Bryant commit an obvious foul that didn’t get called because he’s Kobe Bryant, I resolved to myself, “this is a farce: I’m never going to watch the NBA again.”

    For the most part I actually didn’t. It wasn’t until this year’s championship series between the Warriors and Cavaliers that I ever sat down to watch an NBA basketball game again. I watched most of the series together with my aging dad, who like me also became disgusted many years ago and stopped watching. We both found it enjoyable. The Warriors are an entertaining team to watch.

    Seeing the concussion documentaries probably won’t prevent me from watching the Super Bowl (it didn’t the past couple of years, but then, that’s partly just because the Seahawks were playing). To me it’s far more interesting to follow the effects of the concussions science on the league than it is to watch the games themselves.

    I resolved to stop watching college sports many years ago due to its indentured servitude aspect. Again it’s the news stories (about college athletes unionizing, individual athletes speaking out, etc.) that really attract my attention.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. October 27, 2015 at 10:20 am

    “What the fuck is wrong with us? Why do we take these games so seriously?”

    EXACTLY! I grew up, like so many, loving sports while being repeatedly told “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game” — as a youngster I DIDN’T believe that!… once I got old enough for it to sink in and mean something, I found few around me (as ADULTS) seemed to believe it. I stopped watching spectator sports years ago… the seriousness, the scandals, the excessive money & hype, the cheating, (and now the health concerns) became too much.


    • Dan L
      October 27, 2015 at 11:12 am

      It’s such a stupid lie, yet another example of where kids easily see the hypocrisy of adults. Pro sports is the highest form of sports, which people around the world worship with religious fervor, and there is no question that in professional sports, winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.


  11. October 27, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    Thinking about your comments related to the military and JamesNT’s note above, I went looking for some stats on life expectancy for active US military personnel. I didn’t find data, but came across this article that is really striking: Atlantic widening gap between military and society

    One point I take away is that many of the things I believe about the US military are probably not true. For example:

    In contrast to the post-Second World War demobilization, for example, the post-Cold War drawdown is being met with fierce resistance by many soldiers, because all volunteered to be in the military and most are indeed fighting to stay in.

    One quick conclusion: Abe (above) seems wrong to worry that a reinstated draft would tear the US apart. Instead, the current military would never let it (a draft) happen.


    • October 27, 2015 at 1:34 pm

      Whether the current military would allow it or not, I don’t see on what basis you can say I’m wrong. Do you have any data? Can you compare it to other periods in which a draft existed?


      • October 28, 2015 at 1:13 am

        Dear Abe, I’m not looking to pick a fight with you.

        I don’t really know what would happen with a new draft. It probably depends a lot on the circumstances and reasons for which it is reintroduced.

        That said, here are the points of comparison I would use:
        (1) Past times in which the US has had a draft/compulsory military service. I understand these to be: Civil War, WW1, WW2, Korean War, Vietnam War. Feel free to correct, I’m just guessing off the top of my head.

        (2) Other countries with compulsory service. The list is long, so apologies if I’ve missed many of your favorites:
        – Germany
        – Israel
        – Thailand
        – Singapore
        – Austria
        – Brazil
        – Denmark
        – Switzerland
        – Cuba
        – Russia
        – Algeria
        – Angola

        More or less, these countries all seem to be intact and functional states.

        a nice picture and reference table can be found at Charts Bin.

        of course, a clever analyst would draw out relevant analogies from the history of other countries, not just their current status. If memory serves, forced conscription was one factor driving instability in some pre-revolution countries (maybe imperial Russia? parts of Africa? anti-colonial discontent?)

        My (very fast, very rough) read of the data suggest that any outcome is possible, but the weight of examples is on the side of “the US would make it through somehow.”


    • Kevin
      October 27, 2015 at 5:21 pm

      “One point I take away is that many of the things I believe about the US military are probably not true.”

      Joshua, I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when people actually do some research and question their original assumptions. It gives me hope for humanity every time I see it happen.



    • November 1, 2015 at 6:31 pm

      Who would you rather have in the military? Those who want to be there or those who have to be there?

      Who do you want on the fire department putting out the fire at your house? Those who want to be there, or those who are drafted to be there?



  12. October 28, 2015 at 8:59 am

    An average of three high school football players die per year from football injuries. This year, six (so far).


  13. curlydan
    October 28, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    Medical researchers should be asking athletes across many sports need to volunteer for CTE exams at death. Frankly, I doubt the problem is limited to football. Lacrosse players are most likely to suffer from concussions in team sports, and soccer isn’t that far behind football. Even heading a ball from a punt in soccer 1,000 times in a life could have a dramatic effect on the brain–that doesn’t even count the head-on-head collisions of a corner kick.

    My kids play soccer and flag football, but I don’t encourage headers in soccer and try not to coach heading for the kids on my soccer teams.


    • Quentin
      October 28, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Headers worry me, too. They don’t get coached at all on the teams my son has been on, but the kids occasionally do them in games anyway. I’m inclined to say they should be explicitly banned altogether below some age threshold.


      • October 28, 2015 at 1:59 pm

        I am optimistic about soccer. They could remove headers, and should, and it would still be soccer. Not so much for football, which is intrinsically dangerous.


  14. Quentin
    October 28, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    I know enough parents who don’t want their kids to play football that I’ve come to believe that within another decade or two football will increasingly become a sport played mostly by the disadvantaged who are willing to take the risks because of the potential payoff. That creates yet another similarity to an all volunteer military.


    • Olivier
      October 29, 2015 at 1:05 am

      “a sport played mostly by the disadvantaged who are willing to take the risks because of the potential payoff.”, i.e., like boxing


  15. October 29, 2015 at 1:37 pm


    “NYC high school soccer player dies after injury during match”


  16. amc
    October 30, 2015 at 10:11 am

    I find one key piece of your argument missing: the military is (currently) a national service of volunteers who provide us with national security and increasingly more domestic and international humanitarian relief. Not trying to dissuade you on the topic of service, who should serve, for how long. As a veteran, I wish that more Americans would pay more attention and give a voice to how our political leadership dictates to use our military.

    Professional football is entertainment. Yes, it is big business. I have been boycotting football for years for every reason you stated. I admire hustle, dedication and strength, but I don’t need to see grown men diminished by third-party critics for hours.


  17. October 30, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Thank you! Since I have never followed sports, having never been indoctrinated at an early age by a father, brother, boyfriend or other guy, I have noticed that, with the increasing influx of obscenely large amounts of corporate money, corporate sports has infiltrated the news, instead of being relegated to the sports ghetto where it belongs. I don’t care who’s playing, nevermind who wins or loses, and now I can’t even avoid knowing, no matter how hard I try. It’s on the front pages of every newspaper, in the forefront of every newscast. Now news reporters and anchors can’t even refer to politics without using sports and/or war metaphors. Men, please stop hitting each other in the head and pretending it’s important. Women, don’t be as stupid as men and follow in their big, dumb footsteps. Just sayin’…I’m sick and tired of it all.


  18. Bobito
    October 30, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    It’s a lot more dangerous to ride in a car than it is to play football. I stopped doing both 25 years ago.


  19. Netizen Kane
    October 30, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    The former lineman Art Donovan once said in an NFL films bit about how football is nothing like war, because he fought in WW2 and something to the effect of “That guy shooting at me doesn’t know what a nice guy I am”.

    I have also only watched a handful of games on purpose this year, where before I used to be glued to the TV for the better part of the week during the regular season. I honestly don’t miss it, especially now that basketball season has started again. And I don’t see how the NFL changes if people continue to tune in and pour money into the league.


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