Monday, October 27, 2014

Why I'm Not Watching Football Anymore

I have been, for most of my life, a football fan. Specifically, I have been a fan of the NFL, and of the Pittsburgh Steelers in particular. I grew up in Pittsburgh in the 1970s when the Chuck Noll-led dynasty was legendary. I can't not root for the Steelers - it's programmed into my autonomous responses by now, like Pavlov's dogs.

I had less interest in college football until I attended Ohio State for graduate school. Even there, I never went to a game, and I've remained diffident about big-time college football. Yes, I have rooted for the Buckeyes, but as a lifelong faculty member and administrator in higher education I have some sense of how much sports cost, how few programs actually make money, and how much other people get rich off the backs of the players and the rabid loyalty of the fans. I've blogged about this before (here, here, and here). Suffice it to say that what interest I had in BCS football has been waning for some time.

But now I find that I just can't watch the sport at any level anymore. I've come to this realization after a long accumulation of issues that just won't go away. The science on concussions, which started to get significant public attention a few years ago, is stark: a LOT of football players, especially NFL players who play for a number of years, are essentially damaged for life. Some of them go on to damage the lives of others around them. And while I appreciate that the NFL is putting a small portion of its vast wealth into studying the issue, I don't think there's a solution short of "don't play football". Maybe someone will invent the miracle helmet that can change the laws of physics, but so long as our brains can move within our skulls I think the problem is going to persist.

Then there is the issue of domestic violence, brought to light this season in a couple of very high-profile cases. An op-ed in the NYT recently - written by somebody who is still a genuine fan of the game - had a poignant take on the issue of violence and pro football. These men engage in violence - controlled and structured, true, but violence nevertheless - for a living. For many, that has an effect on the psyche just as it has an effect on the brain - and there are complex interactions than can make it worse.

Then in this past weekend's paper came this story about injuries in the NFL. Across the 32 team rosters there are roughly 1700 players (some proportion of which don't see a lot of action - kickers, third-stringers, special teams players, etc.) By this point in the season, less than 1/2 way through, some 200 of those players have been injured severely enough to be taken out for 6 weeks or more. Injuries include torn-up knees and muscles, broken legs and collarbones, strains and sprains of all kinds - and, of course, a few severe concussions. By this point, roughly 1/8 of the workforce has gotten hurt. Short of soldiers in a very active war zone, I don't know a lot of professions with that kind of casualty rate.

At some point, I just can't watch this anymore. I still appreciate the supreme skill and artistry of the game played at the highest level. Some of what these players do is remarkable to behold. But the cost which that artistry is exacting on those same players is nearing the horrific. That knowledge sits in my head, demanding attention, any time I try to watch a game. I just can't enjoy it anymore, knowing that I may well be watching the ruining of another man's future life for my entertainment.

Let me be clear - this is a personal conclusion, which so far as I'm concerned affects only me. I have lots of friends who are still fans of the game at both the college and pro levels, and I don't ask that they change their habits or demand that they think the way I do. I wouldn't dream of calling for a boycott on watching football, nor would I make the argument that football should somehow be banned. Making such arguments would be an attempt to bully or harangue my views onto others. I'm not interested in that.

So if you enjoy football, great - I hope you watch for as long as it brings you enjoyment. But as for me - I've had enough. All the damage being done - voluntary or not, consciously chosen or not - is just too much. I have plenty of other things demanding my time. Time to try a football-free fall.


  1. I watch football like I eat conventionally-raised meat. Wrong, I know, but oh so good.

  2. I've also stopped watching football. I'd rather play with my 3 yearold or hang out with my wife. But really it was a financial decision. I don't make money when the Red Skins win a game, so why care? Instead of watching the sport get weaker and weaker every year with awful penalties and pointless political dramas that have nothing to do with sports, I read articles instead. Economics and politics mostly. Look up the 5 year chart on Domino's or walmart or apple and realize that the money you've spent on football over the same amount of time has been a waste.