Friday, January 30, 2015

Falling Out of Love With Pro Football

Dear National Football League:

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s over.

We grew up together. I was born and raised in a part of the country where football is the glue and common language that holds communities together. Some of my best memories are of watching your minor league games (aka NCAA college football) with friends and family on Saturdays. High school football on Friday, College on Saturday, Pros on Sunday. It was pretty sweet. As I grew up, you became far and away the most popular sport in the country.

My earliest heroes were football players. Joe Montana and Walter Payton especially. I wanted to be just like them, dominating opponents and rewriting history. Even as the years went on and I developed a taste for things like Art, Music, and other “highbrow” activities, you could count on me to find time to catch the games on Sunday.

But I can’t do this anymore.

I guess it’s true that you shouldn't get too close to your idols. Thanks to 24 coverage from ESPN, the NFL network, and the Internet, I know more about you than I’ve ever wanted to. Some relationships end suddenly, others end as the bullshit piles up little by little until you just can’t ignore how it isn’t working anymore. And let’s be honest: there’s a lot of bullshit going on with you.

Leave aside the fact you make billions of dollars a year and don’t pay taxes, and how cheap you are when it comes to paying your refs, stadium workers, and cheerleaders. There’s the relatively minor crap like Deflation-Gate. But then there’s the not-so-minor crap like what happened with Ray Rice. And Aaron Hernandez. And your blackballing of Michael Sam (don’t lie and pretend it’s anything but that). And your racist team mascot. And Richie Incogntio. And Bounty-Gate. And Michael Vick. And Ben Roethlesburger. And Jim Irsay. And Sex Boat. And Spy-Gate.

I get it, this kind of stuff happens in every major sports league on Earth. But then there was that documentary Frontline ran a couple of years ago that told the world all about how you ignored, dismissed, and covered up the devastating health problems experienced by some (or should I say “many?” or “most?”) of your former players. Some of them (like super-stars Junior Seau and Dave Duerson) committed suicide because of the brain damage they suffered from playing your sport.

These men literally gave you their lives, and you treated them like used-up slaves. I’ll be honest - I haven’t looked at you the same way after watching that.

Recently, it was one small recent thing that tipped my opinion over the edge. At this year’s Super Bowl media day, one of the players made comments about how he and his teammates need to make sure to target the injured parts of their opponents bodies. Just part of the game. Everyone knows that. Maybe it was the casual way the player talked about it. Or maybe it was the ever-so-slightly smug and condescending tone the ex-jock and sportswriter pundits took toward anyone who might think there’s something wrong with this kind of attitude. Whatever it was, I’ve now had enough.

I used to defend you. Sure, it’s a brutal game, I told myself and others, but it’s also about skill and strategy. Now I know other than the quarterback position, skill is the last thing on the list that qualifies you to be a pro football player. What seems to count much more is your ability to successfully do three things: inflict pain, endure pain, and cheat. Lately, all I’m seeing is 22 guys trying to make it through an hour of playing a game without getting crippled for life or edging their way closer to permanent injury or dementia.

Between this and the skeevy ways your players, coaches, and owners conduct themselves on and off the field, you've become the torture porn of professional sports. Or maybe you’ve always been that, and I just didn't see it. But I can’t help but see it now, and I don’t think in good conscience I can support it any more.

I don’t spend hundreds of dollars a year on tickets and merchandise, so you probably don’t care that I’m ending our relationship. And that’s OK. I’m not asking you to change, because you and your friends have made it clear you are what you are, and doing things differently would mean “it’s not football.” So be it. I’ll probably watch a few minutes of the Super Bowl this year, for old times sake. But after the end of that game, I won’t be back.

I know, I know...If I don’t like it, change the channel or turn off your TV. That’s exactly what I plan on doing, not just this Sunday, but on Sundays for the foreseeable future. And I suspect I’m not the only one.

Sincerely, A Former Fan

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