Football, you’re fired

I am trying to break a 55-year-long addiction to watching pro football games on TV.

I know, I know. It doesn’t fit that a man who grows his own vegetables and writes about the simple life should get enjoyment from watching 350-pound behemoths crush themselves.

It’s often hard to tell the exact moment when you decide to give up something.  I didn’t watch football this past Sunday, or the Sunday before that, and I won’t watch the Patriots game tonight. It’s also hard to say with certainty when you’ve broken an addiction. We’ll see where it goes from here.

Many things have soured me on pro football. One is reading about a new book called “Against Football” by Steve Almond, who asserts that it “legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism and homophobia.”

The video of Ray Rice punching his girlfriend in an elevator has gotten a lot of attention, but his case obscures the fact that 56 NFL players have been arrested on domestic violence charges in the last nine years. And who’s surprised? These are pampered, testosterone-ridden young men rewarded for head-banging whose colleges exploited them with only a sham education. There have probably been a lot more players who abuse women but weren’t arrested.

On the field, the players are targets for violence as well as dispensers of it. The video “League of Denial” shows how often these constant blows to the head result in brain trauma and even suicide. Supporting a spectacle that causes brain damage seems immoral to me. It feels a little like being a Roman citizen watching gladiators.

The vast majority of NFL players are African American, but less than a quarter of the quarterbacks are (I remember when there were none). The quarterbacks are the leaders of the teams, the most important players, the highest paid (one makes $40 million a year), the most protected by rules against violent hits, and the least likely to suffer brain trauma.

When I was growing up, I was a fan of the Washington Redskins, the team that’s now resisting pressure to change its name. As we’ve become more sensitized to the evils of pejorative race-based name-calling, it’s astounding to me that this name is still around. I remember hearing an African American commentator say sarcastically, “Why not just call them the Washington N*****s?”

The greed in football has gotten to me too. The NFL brings in $9 billion in revenue a year and paid its embattled commissioner $44 million last year. (Did you see how he visited a domestic abuse hot line yesterday? Good job, PR guys!) When I watched some of the first Patriots game of the season, I couldn’t believe how many commercials there were. It’s easy to do the math: there’s less than an hour of action, but the game takes over three hours. What a waste of time!

In baseball, it’s either strike or ball, out or safe. In football, the capriciousness of the officials amazes me. Who knows exactly what constitutes holding or pass interference? Seems to me they could throw a penalty flag on every play. I’ve seen games where teams beat up each other for hours, and then the outcome is decided by one official calling an infraction that could have gone either way.

Pro football involves more strategy and teamwork than any other sport, and there’s a kind of terrible beauty to it. But there are so many problems that it’s time for me to just let it go.


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