Regular readers of Burbania Posts will know that there was a time when I watched a whole lot of football. I even religiously tuned in to the 24-hour infomercial that is the NFL Network. I wrote about it here (check out the sports pages in my archives). I made predictions. The first Sunday of our church year is called "Kickoff Sunday" partly because we are kicking off the new year...and partly because the new season begins that afternoon. The point is, I was almost a super fan. The only thing keeping me back was that I couldn't bring myself to engage in the frightening debates at the bottom of the "comments" section on NFL.com.
I got into it in a roundabout way. I live in a place where baseball remained king for longer than anywhere else (Go Red Sox!). It was as a youngish adult that I turned to the fandom of professional football. It began by hanging out with the Phys. Ed. majors in my dorm. I embraced it with the zeal of a convert. That is coming to an end now.
In fact, the end began a few years ago with the slow erosion of my trust in the institution of the NFL. I don't think I have to go into details, do I? There were a number of ill-conceived labor disputes culminating in the absolutely ridiculous lock-out of the referees. I took a break then, because I don't cross picket lines, even TV ones. Then there were the revelations around concussions. Perhaps most importantly, I (and others) had the creeping suspicion that the league and it's owners didn't particularly care about the health of players and former players as much as they cared about message control. About a third of the way through last year's season, I turned off the TV and didn't return until the Super Bowl.
"Protect the Shield" is the unofficial slogan of Commissioner Roger Goodell and it has made him very popular among his employers. The league does its best to project an image that is as pure and wholesome as eating apple pie at a church social, but reality keeps sneaking in. Do I need to mention that racial slur used as a "mascot" in our nation's capitol? The league keeps saying that it is respectful--even an honorific--to Native Americans even though pretty much everyone they aren't paying says it isn't. This week we get to hear that there are new rules around players committing acts of domestic violence. Why? Because the league just discovered that most fans view it as more heinous a crime than smoking pot. The two-game suspension of Ray Rice seems a bit too much like the punishment parents give out to kids when they secretly think their child can do no wrong. What world do they live in? Protect the shield. Always make sure the money keeps rolling in. That is their world.
Here is what I saw before I turned off the TV. In earlier times I had seen a pleasant diversion, an interesting metaphor for the struggle of life, even a certain regional pride as I watched my home team. In that last game, though, something was different. I saw a wealthy old billionaire high-fiving his billionaire friends while his employees permanently damaged their heads, spines, legs and backs in pursuit of...something. On the sideline was the caricature of the sort of horrible, screaming, obscene middle-aged suburban dad most of us try not to become at youth sporting events. I asked myself if I wanted to be the sort of person who condones this. The answer, it turned out, was "no".
Look, I am not anti-football per se. You will see me at the annual high school Thanksgiving game and maybe at a couple more. What I am is anti-NFL, at least in its current incarnation. The game has problems. It has really, really big problems that trickle down to that high school field and need to be addressed in an open, honest, forthright manner. No pretending. No fakes. Deal with the issues and I will come back. Don't and I won't. I can go outdoors and spend time with my family on Sunday afternoons. I am quitting the NFL.