Why I stopped watching football

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.


  1. G. Priddy says

    At least two small colleges in the Cleveland area (Lake Erie College and Notre Dame College) have recently added intercollegiate football to their sports programs. In the case of LEC, at least, it seems to be an attempt to move away from its roots as a liberal arts college that was originally women-only. It has certainly increased enrollment there, but whether the quality matches the quantity is open to much debate.

    I too, have stopped watching NFL games, although I’ll probably tune in to the Super Bowl at least long enough to see pre-game (Renee Fleming!), the first half commercials, and halftime.

  2. Trebuchet says

    I sort of have to watch the Superbowl because the local team is in it. That said, the spectacle of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen conning the public into building him a stadium turned my stomach.

    I noticed during the playoffs (I didn’t watch the regular season) that the NFL has begun talking a good show about concussions. I expect that’s pretty much all it is. They might actually have a lower concussion rate if they played WITHOUT helmets, because players would be less inclined to use their heads as weapons.

  3. AnotherAnonymouse says

    Wow, those Obamas! First the wife with her radical, crazy idea that families should take walks together and eat the occasional vegetable, then the husband with the un-Murkun idea that giving children brain damage is bad!

  4. countryboy says

    I stopped watching football way back when Vince Lombardi left Green Bay. Haven’t missed it either.

  5. mnb0 says

    As rugby has its share of problems too in the department of injuries


    you probably should turn to real football.


    To wet your appetite and satisfy some chauvinism:

    http: //www. youtube.com/ watch?v=rzT2WQCBpmY
    http: //www. youtube.com/watch?v=kaaa7I-5-xc

    Luc Castaignos is playing for my favourites. You being a physicist should be interested in the physics of kicking a ball.
    The big money problem is serious in football too. But no team owner (on the continent teams aren’t owned by rich individuals anyway) would survive a threat to move to another city due to the fans. Several of your other objections apply though.
    As a physicist you should be interested in the technique of ball kicking:

    http:// www. youtube.com/watch?v=ara1A7JK_TU
    http:// http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=3ECoR__tJNQ

    The curves are amazing.

  6. colnago80 says

    An excellent example of the greed of the owners is the placing of this year’s Superbowl in a cold weather outdoor stadium. It would serve those fuckers right if there were a snow storm tomorrow.

  7. Mano Singham says

    @G. Priddy,

    A friend of ours is a long-time administrator at NDC. I should ask her if the school now thinks that bringing in football was a good idea.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Obama’s statement will be the cue for some parents to immediately go out and enroll their children into football programs …

    And in most cases, we’ll never know whether football or parental ideology caused the most brain damage.

  9. markr1957 says

    mnb0 @ #5 – as someone left permanently disabled by a ruptured PCL (yes I do mean PCL, not ACL) suffered playing rugby union I can attest to the dangers. Lesson learned – don’t be the second person into a loose maul!

  10. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    The brain damage just reinforces my hatred of one of the most boring sports on earth. Nothing instills dislike for humans and their ‘ways’ quite like watching several tens of thousands of drunken idjits destroying greenspaces and/or puking and urinating throughout the campus on a weekly basis as though it were a religious rite. Then, of course, there is the horrible inbreeding of a line of bulldogs just for a frickin’ mascot.

  11. Ronald says

    The one thing I would add to this discussion is the deplorable conduct of some of the players, including some of the biggest stars, in their personal lives. And this issue of personal behavior is something that applies to some of the players from other sports leagues as well. It has impacted my enthusiasm for being a sports fan.

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