Tomorrow (Sunday) is the much-hyped Super Bowl. I will not be watching it, just as I have skipped it in the past decade. In my earlier post about how little time is actually involved in play during a normal football game, some of the comments accused those critical of the game of being ‘haters’. It is true that I have come to dislike the game but it was not always so. If I am a hater, it is a fairly recent development.
I used to be a football fan. What I had heard about this game while in Sri Lanka made it seem like a slow moving game that stopped every few seconds and my first experience watching a game in the US did not change my mind. But in those days I was a teaching assistant helping students in the labs and during the down times or after class, some of them took it upon themselves to make me into a fan by teaching me the rules and, what really matters to a fan, the finer points of play and strategy. It did not take long before I was regularly watching games, and knew the names of key players and coaches and watched and read about games. I could ‘talk football’ with the best of them. Getting together with friends to watch the Super Bowl became an annual ritual.
But after a couple of decades I began to get slowly disillusioned. The main reason was what was happening off the field. I became disgusted with the sheer greed of the NFL and its millionaire team owners as they extorted money from cities to pay for new and luxurious stadiums, with threats to move the teams to other cities if the people did not pay up. Cities had to use money that could have gone for other services to build and upkeep huge structures that were used less than ten times each year.
What added to my dislike was the rise in obnoxious behavior by players, with the absurd self-congratulations and chest beating and boasting and finger-pointing that went well beyond the reasonable celebrations that might accompany a good effort or a superb athletic feat. Add to that the mean-spirited taunting of opponents, not to mention the dirty play of some, and my disillusionment steadily grew. I found that I just did not enjoy watching anymore and stopped doing so.
The recent revelations of the increasing evidence that it is a dangerous sport, leaving players with a good chance of traumatic brain injuries has cemented my decision to never return to the game. The survey that there are only about 11 minutes of actual play in a game suggests that a lot of the brain trauma that football players suffer from can’t be just from the actual games and the few major hits but also from the many mini-concussions accumulated over the vastly more hours of practice in many years of play, starting from their childhood.
As a result, I cannot watch any more. Every time I see someone get hit, it makes me think of what is happening to his brain. President Obama recently said that if he had a son he would not let him play football, suggesting that we may be at the beginning of a major shift in public opinion. Of course, Obama’s statement will be the cue for some parents to immediately go out and enroll their children into football programs because since they think Obama is the anti-Christ, they must do the opposite of whatever he does.
I think the decline in football will be slow but steady. Apart from the professional leagues and a few big schools, football is a financial burden. There really is no financial upside to K-12 schools fielding teams and it is morally wrong to subject young people to traumatic brain injury. At the college level, elite universities and smaller colleges will drop the sport since students don’t go to those places because of the football program so why spend lots of money on something that only hurts your students? My university fields a team but hardly any students or faculty go to watch the games (I have not been to a single one), so what’s the point?
Eventually I hope that football will become like boxing. It will still attract devoted fans who do not mind, and may even like, seeing people beat each other up as part of a sport, but an increasing number of people will find it distasteful and will discourage their children from taking up the game. Philip Weiss says that the evidence of football’s negative effects on health are now so strong that we should avoid even watching the games because by doing so we are complicit in violent assault.