Abstaining From Football For The Super Bowl

Steve Almond, lover of football, writes for the NYT Magazine about why he won’t be watching the Super Bowl this year:

Recently, though, medical research has confirmed that football can cause catastrophic brain injury — not as a rare and unintended consequence, but as a routine byproduct of how the game is played. That puts us fans in a morally queasy position. We not only tolerate this brutality. We sponsor it, just by watching at home. We’re the reason the N.F.L. will earn $5 billion in television revenue alone next year, three times as much as its runner-up, Major League Baseball.

…Just so we’re clear on this: I still love football. I love the grace and the poise of the athletes. I love the tension between the ornate structure of the game and its improvisatory chaos, and I love the way great players find opportunity, even a mystical kind of order, in the midst of that chaos.

The problem is that I can no longer indulge these pleasures without feeling complicit.

Maybe from now on when I have to tell someone I don’t like watching football I will tell them I’m morally opposed. That’s a quick way to make friends, right?

There are two basic rationalizations for fans like myself. The first is that the N.F.L. is working hard to make the game safer, which is flimsy at best. The league spent years denying that the game was causing neurological damage. Now that the medical evidence is incontrovertible, it has sought to reduce high-speed collisions, fining defenders for helmet-to-helmet hits and other flagrantly violent play. Its most significant response has been to offer $765 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 former players, but a judge recently blocked the settlement. It simply wasn’t enough money.

The second argument is that players choose to incur the game’s risks and are lavishly compensated for doing so. This is technically true. N.F.L. players are members of an elite fraternity that knowingly places self-sacrifice, valor and machismo above ethical or medical common sense. But most start out as kids with limited options. They may love football for its inherent virtues. But they also quickly come to see the game as a path to glory and riches. These rewards aren’t inherent. They arise from a culture of fandom that views players as valuable only so long as they can perform.

Almond goes on to talk about the way many professional sports “monetize hypermasculinity” and serve as an ethically sanctioned way to live out our wartime fantasies of aggression and so on. It is worth a read, if you care about this stuff, and if you have any of your ten free articles left for the month!