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.