You know what I used to like to do in the fall? Aside from enjoy fall-like temperatures from September to Halloween?
Watch NFL football, especially the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I can’t watch football anymore.
The short list of why I can’t watch the NFL goes like this:
1. Concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and the culture of denial. (This story about Mike Webster just about broke my black-n-gold loving heart.)
2. Health care for former players
3. Roger Goodell
5. Rape and domestic abuse (see #4)
I’ve slowly become disillusioned with NFL football because of the business of the NFL, and because of the culture of football in America.
My disillusionment probably started with the realization that I didn’t want my son to play football. The issue of concussions, and the effects of football on the body and the brain, have been contentious, and, frankly, I don’t think the NFL has addressed it very well. Players suffering dementia, players committing suicide. I can’t abide the thought that if M wants to play football, this could be a future he’s looking at.
The other aspect of football culture, if you will, that I am terminally troubled by is the attitude toward women. Each week, we hear a new story about an NFL player in a domestic violence dispute, or a public fight with his girlfriend/baby mama, or alleged rape accusations. Yes, Big Ben, I’m looking at you. At first, I thought I could separate these criminal activities from the action on the field.
But this year, this fall, I just can’t.
There is a sense of entitlement that goes with being a pro athlete. It’s probably less prevalent in pro hockey and pro baseball (although, correct me if I’m wrong. We have Sidney Crosby, probably the nicest guy in pro sports ever. Well, with the exception of Mario Lemiuex). I don’t follow MLB closely — and I don’t follow the NBA at all.
This culture of entitlement is at the root of things like the Stuebenville rape case and the Aaron Hernandez allegations.
I’m not going to call for a boycott of the NFL. I used to scoff at people who likened it to the bloodsport of emperors, the gladiator showdowns of ancient Rome. But in light of the increasing incidence of CTE, I get queasy watching the lines run into each other now.
Admittedly, it helps when your NFL team is down 0-4 in a season when hockey is hot, and playoff baseball is hotter. (Which, there’s a phrase I didn’t think I’d be writing about the Pirates in October.)
But I think I need to opt out of NFL-watching for awhile. I’ll buy my kids some Pirates’ gear and teach them the finer points of hockey. If the NFL gets a little safer for its players, and takes more responsibility for their health care when they retire; if high school and college and pro football players stop acting like and being treated like entitled creatures who can get away with crimes; and if the culture of misogyny can be properly addressed and ended, I’ll come back as a fan. And be happy to watch with my daughters and son, and teach them the finer points of football, too.
Has anything given you misgivings about watching your sport of choice?