It’s time to stop watching football
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.