Tag Archives: NFL

I Won’t Be Watching Super Bowl XLIX

I’m coming to the end of my second football-less season. Since I made the decision to withhold my viewership at the beginning of the 2013 NFL season, I have not watched football in my home. I’ve not gone out of my way to avoid football necessarily. I’ve seen the odd quarter while at a friend’s house where watching the game was the main social activity and I’ve seen parts of games out of the corner of my eye at a restaurant or sports bar. The only game I saw multiple quarters of was on Thanksgiving when I was visiting family. It would be kind of jerky to demand that football broadcasts be extinguished whenever I’m around. I didn’t give up watching to make other people uncomfortable. I gave up watching because I was uncomfortable.

But I won’t be going to a Super Bowl party. Again.

And I have to be honest. I feel like maybe I’m spitting into the wind or screaming into the void or whatever metaphor appropriately illustrates the utter futility of my “protest.” Despite the long-standing coverup by the NFL of chronic traumatic brain injuries suffered by players and the evidence that players faced with the pressure to perform continue to return to action without being properly screened for concussion, millions continue to watch. Despite policies that until recently punished smoking marijuana more severely than domestic abuse, viewership rises. Despite the sturm und drang earlier in the year that had people calling for the commissioner of the league to be fired, all seems forgiven and forgotten as revenues reach ever higher into the billions of dollars. Football is our national Id and it will not be denied.

A life without football is weird. Especially when you still consider yourself a sports fan — it is simply unavoidable. I haven’t watched a game this year, but mainly thanks to heavy social media consumption, I can tell you about any number of story lines from the season: blown calls, amazing catches and dramatic comebacks. The narrative of the NFL season is so easy to absorb, seemingly by cultural osmosis, that I can pretty easily fake my end of a conversation about whatever game-of-the-week is on peoples’ minds. It’s like that character from Whit Stillman’s great movie Metropolitan, who doesn’t read books, only book reviews, “You don’t have to have read a book to have an opinion on it. I haven’t read the Bible either.” But unlike that character, I know I’m being a complete phony when I do it. But it seems the lesser evil compared to thrusting my queasy righteousness into an innocent conversation about the failures of the Green Bay secondary. Imagine, “Yeah, the prevent defense is totally useless, but you know what was preventable? Junior Seau’s suicide.” No one likes that guy.

I was at a friend’s house, and he had a playoff game on his television. And I sat down with him and some other guys on the sofa and we were talking while watching the game, and I briefly thought about coming back. Because it was fun to sit there. A bunch of guys mixing talk about the game with talk about our lives. The strange dance of distance and intimacy, posturing and confessing that is the complex choreography of male friendship. And it has its natural soundtrack in the strategy and deception, violence and skill of an NFL game. It shouldn’t be impossible to achieve that without the prop of the game on in the background, but for whatever reason it too often is.

And then I saw a guy absolutely flattened on a kickoff return. The collision was brutal. The player was slow to rise and staggered off the field in their best imitation of a “I’m not hurt” trot to the sidelines. And I remembered. He did that for my entertainment. And I just couldn’t continue. I got up to get myself a drink and never wandered back to the sofa.

I miss the NFL. I miss watching the games with friends. I miss being in Fantasy Leagues. I miss throwing in $5 for an office pool. But I can’t come back. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

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I Can’t Watch Football Anymore

I’m not watching football anymore. I just can’t. Let me explain.

I didn’t play organized football for very long. I started a new school in 8th grade and for some reason I thought playing on the football team would be a good way to meet people and make friends. Never mind that I was rail thin and maybe 100 pounds sopping wet in a wool sweater. Never mind that the only football I had played up to that point were touch games in the backyard with my friends and the occasional semi-organized game of flag football at summer camp. Never mind that constitutionally I was a better fit for the drama club than the poseur-macho culture of the middle school locker room. I played because I was a football fan – a NY Giants fan to be specific. I had posters of Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks and Joe Morris on the walls of my bedroom. Bill Parcells was the smartest man alive as far as I could tell. Those guys were my heroes. I lived and died every Sunday watching them play on TV and those rare occasions when I was able to go to a game at the Meadowlands were like religious pilgrimages. So, I played football.

by Archman8

photo by archman8

I remember the first time I really got hit – got my “bell rung” as they say. It was at a practice where the coach had us get in two lines with the front of one line facing opposite of the other. The drill was that the two people at the front of each line would run and hit each other – no one was the defender or ball carrier – just straight-up collide in the middle and see who “wins.” I’m not sure if it was a physics experiment or if it had some instructional value about how to hit someone. I don’t remember whom I was up against, and I don’t even remember how ferociously or not I tried to hit them. What I do remember is not only getting knocked on my ass, but the force of the collision slamming into my head and as I got up off the ground slowly, my ears were ringing and the laughing and hooting of the coaches and players was coming through only dimly. I was confused. I was a little disoriented. Did I have a minor concussion? Maybe. Maybe not. People didn’t really seem too concerned about that in-general back then.

I didn’t play football when we started high school the next year. But I was every bit as much a football fan and remained so for many, many years. Some of my favorite father-son moments with my dad occurred around the New York Giants. I was able to instantly bond with my father-in-law over the New York Giants. Even though we live in Washington with its Football Team With a Racist Name, I made sure my son was a Giants fan. I can’t count how many male friendships over the years have been solidified over football talk in-general and the G-men specifically. But throughout that time while I was dimly aware of the violent nature of the game, its reality and consequences were out of view. Sure, there were guys whose knees were shot and tragic stories like Lyle Alzado’s whose health was ruined by steroids, but they were aberrations.

But over the past decade the revelations about the lingering impact of multiple concussions on the physical and mental health of professional football players has changed something for me. These men are doing permanent harm to themselves for my entertainment, harm that persists long after the season is over, long after their career is done, long after we’ve all moved on to the newest crop of faster, stronger players who repeat the same story with exponential violence.

People say, “But certainly these men knew football is a dangerous sport? No one forced them to play. They’re well compensated and with that kind of compensation sometimes comes consequences.” This ignores the fact that fan dollars and gargantuan television contracts feed the system that creates that kind of cruel logic. It ignores the fact that the NFL has gone to extreme lengths to keep the truth of the situation from both players and fans.

That’s why I won’t watch anymore.

William C. Rhoden put it bluntly in this weekend’s Times when writing about the recent settlement of a lawsuit between the NFL and a group of 4,500 former players who claimed to suffer lingering health effects from concussions.

The settlement has put all of us who watch pro football on a moral hot seat. Former players have taken the money, leaving the fans three ways to rationalize their addictive zeal for these weekly spectacles:
■ You love the product and don’t really care about its costs.
■ You are troubled by football but will continue to watch.
■ You will walk away.

Rhoden says he is going to continue to watch “as a cultural critic who thinks that football is merely evidence of erosion in the American soul.” When you’re a New York Times columnist I guess you can get away with that.

But I’m walking away. And not without regrets.

I love the game – the strategy, the execution, the disciplined aggression and the intense rivalries. Football teams are our modern American tribes and this decision leaves me tribe-less, which is a lonely way to be.

I haven’t watched a game these past two weeks. I haven’t watched highlights on SportsCenter or listened to the chatter about the Washington Football Team With The Racist Name on talk radio. I’ve avoided even reading about the games on the news websites I frequent.

And I’ve had several awkward conversations with friends that went something like this:

“Did you watch the game?”
“No, I’m not watching anymore. I just can’t bear it with everything we know about concussions. I feel dirty.”
“Oh.”
“But I heard it was a pretty awful game.”
“Yeah. We got creamed. I gotta go.”

I can tell people don’t want to hear it.
I don’t want to hear it.
Does it really matter if one Giants fan doesn’t watch? Ratings are higher than they’ve ever been, so I guess not.

But I can’t be a part of this anymore.

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