This past weekend I watched my last NFL game. The game has been bothering me for a long time, but I always stopped short of shutting off the tube, deluding myself that it was enough to be mindful of the game’s flaws. Being a fan has provided me with wonderful experiences and memories, even friendships. But I can no longer associate myself with this culture.
I am not a former high school player. I don’t see how it matters. Yes, I buy the arguments about how football builds character and responsibility. But plenty of cultures (er…all except Canada?) do not play American football, and plenty of American children never put on pads. You can’t possibly believe the vast majority of human beings are irresponsible and lack character.
Gardening builds character. So do chess, meditation and swimming. Ballet teaches responsibility, discipline, body control, focus, determination, fitness, respect for one’s body, healthy expression of oneself, and ballet dancers perform through pain. Those lessons and that kind of perseverance are common to many activities, especially when performed by someone serious about them. American football, as a culture and society, offers no unique or superior lesson. Those football players I knew in high school and college who felt superior were sadly, tragically deluded.
Yes, most athletes, whatever the sport, are decent people. Some are less than angelic. We should look up to them with caution, and deifying them is foolish. Make your arguments about hockey thugs and footballer (I mean soccer) goons, many full of themselves. If you love American football so much that you’re willing to look past this latest cover up, to rationalize it away, or even to blow it off as unimportant, your certainty should not motivate you to argue with a guy who’s stepping away from consuming the sport. Neither you nor the game will miss me. My absence will have no effect.
And that’s exactly the point. If we’re angry and offended but continue to watch, it’s hard to convince anyone we’re all that angry or offended. If we keep the game on, our offense, large as it might be, will still remain smaller than whatever positives we believe football provides.
As a fan of the sport and long-time supporter of this league, therefore a participant in its culture, often a consumer of its advertised goods, I’m being asked to define the positives. Are they available in no other community or space? Is there no way to disassociate myself from an organization that pooh-poohs domestic violence? That question is inescapable, and the answer is obvious.
They won’t care about our protests or any noise we make. They will only care when the cost of a Super Bowl ad skydives. This year, even in the aftermath of the recent scandal, I predict the price will have risen since last February. And that will show what we truly value.