How Do I Stay A Football Fan?

| March 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

I come from a football family. We watch it more than we play it, but its always been a part of my life. Growing up, my parents used to host Super Bowl viewing parties with our neighbors and friends, and during the season I was always going to my aunt’s or my neighbors’ house with my parents to watch the game. We even used to go to a game every fall and tailgate all day with our neighborhood friends. It was a social ritual, complete with weird superstitions and, one AFC championship game, a Peyton Manning dartboard. My family and I, and all of our family friends, were Patriots fans, so we reveled in the Brady/Belichick-era success and seized the opportunity for every possible Super Bowl and playoff party.

I still love the Patriots, and living in Boston has only intensified it—so far, I have gone to two Super Bowl parades in below freezing weather. But as I’ve gotten older and realized more about the NFL, it’s getting harder and harder to watch the sport I grew up with. I’m not talking about deflategate, although that was an unfair and overly-harsh ruling and I will never admit otherwise. No, the NFL hasn’t only caused problems and controversy within itself, but contributed to and caused larger societal problems.

One of the most egregious of these offenses is the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell’s seeming indifference to sexual assault and spousal/child abuse. These are common crimes within the league, and there are always new stories popping up, from Ray Rice assaulting his wife to Jermaine Cunningham posting revenge porn. According to a 2015 Vice article, there were at that time 44 players in the NFL who had been accused of sexual or physical assault, and no significant policy changes have been made since then.  Every time, it seems, there is a short suspension and then the perpetrator is back on the field, as if nothing ever happened. I’m not suggesting that the NFL serve as judge and jury in cases that haven’t gone to criminal trial, but if a man is on film knocking his wife unconscious and dragging her body down a hallway, that man has no right to play in the NFL, and absolutely should not be an object of fame or idolization for anyone. Still, in 2017, there is never any meaningful condemnation from Goodell or the rest of the league. It’s a slap on the wrist and then back to business as usual.

Then, of course, there are the concussions. More and more evidence has emerged as of late that the repeated head trauma suffered by NFL players leads to frequent cases of CTE. In July, USA Today reported that in a study of the brains of 111 NFL players, 110 showed signs of CTE. I wouldn’t feel as uneasy if the players knew the risks–after all, life is full of risk, and football is hardly the only sport that causes head trauma–but I can’t be sure they do. The NFL doesn’t acknowledge these statistics and try to improve and protect its players. It tries to draw attention away from the issue and cover it up. It refuses to address CTE head-on because saving lives isn’t worth losing profit.

Cases like these are why, when teams and owners lock arms on the field, or Goodell puts out a statement defending his players against the President’s attacks on their free speech, I still cannot feel any pride in them. The NFL can portray itself as a force of unity all it wants, but all of the league’s problems are still there, lurking under the surface. I really like watching football, I do, but it’s getting harder and harder to justify with every morally bankrupt decision the NFL makes. I feel guilty watching sometimes. I feel like I am contributing to the perpetuation of gendered violence and the decline of the players’ physical and mental health. But it’s still a family activity for me. It’s nostalgic, a ritual I’ve shared with my family since childhood, and I’m hesitant to give that up. After all, if just I stop watching, the NFL will still be fine. All that will change is I’ll miss football. Of course, that’s just an excuse, because I like watching football and want to keep doing it. What I really want is for the league to change for good, to start taking care of its players and its community, but I’m not sure that will ever happen. At this rate, I don’t know if I’ll get to stay a football fan forever.

photo credit: RonAlmog American football in Tel-Aviv, Israel via photopin (license)

Category: featured, Reflections, Sports

Samantha Troll

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