Is it immoral to watch American football?


Today is a Sunday in the fall season in the US and many millions of people will gather round TVs to watch professional football. It used to be the case that Sundays were the only days when they were shown but now you can also see games on Mondays and Thursdays while college games are shown on Saturdays and when their season ends in December, professional football takes those slots too. So basically, football fans can indulge their passions most days of the week.

Franscisco Javier López Frías and Cesar R. Torres raise the question of whether it is actually immoral to watch football, saying that the way Colin Kaepernick and others who protest police brutality have been treated by the NFL, the now well-known danger of brain injury to players, the intense commercialization, and the glorification of violence, makes this a topic worthy of serious consideration. Of the last aspect, this is what they say.

It is not inherent violence but a culture of violence around the sport that is troubling.

Nate Jackson, a former football player, describes in his 2013 memoir, “Slow Getting Up,” that for most of his colleagues, the main rewards of the sport relate to violence. For instance, one of the main lessons players must learn to be successful is “decide what you’re going to do and do it violently.”

Considering all the morally problematic aspects surrounding football, it is worth asking: Is this the kind of social practice around which Americans should imagine and build their national identity?

I used to watch football but now simply cannot because every time I see a hard tackle, I feel sickened at the thought of the brain injury that is occurring. I just cannot in good conscience support that even passively. I do not want people to risk their lives just to entertain me. This is also why I do not watch activities such as tightrope walking and trapeze artists who perform without a safety net. The possibility of danger turns me off but it seems to be the opposite for some people in that the possibility of death or serious injury is what makes it appealing.

For many fans of American football, the suggestion that it is immoral to watch will be considered borderline heresy and even unpatriotic. They may note the Spanish names of the article’s authors and dismiss them as not being real Merkins and thus not understanding the appeal of football.

Comments

  1. says

    I think that this is a great question.

    Financially supporting the NFL – including by watching non-pirated games so as to enable their sales of advertising time – is certainly problematic, and according to many ethical frameworks is immoral. People who currently watch the NFL (or college football) should certainly take the time to think this through.

    Watching pirated games raises other issues. While these include those around the piracy itself, I think those go without saying. I think the under-appreciated ethical problems here are how voluntary exposure to violent culture has the potential to normalize violence, thus diminishing the likelihood of an appropriate response. That issue, of course, isn’t unique to the NFL and I’m not saying there’s a simple answer. I watch superhero movies, for instance, and most of those include quite a lot of violence. But however you decide the issue, I think it’s certainly worth the time to think about it.

  2. says

    It gets even more immoral when you get into college football, a billion dollar industry where the players go through all the same physical dangers as professionals with no compensation beyond an alleged college degree (with the time required to play, I have my doubts about the validity of those degrees) and you can lose your scholarship if you’re too injured to play.

  3. jrkrideau says

    @1 Tabby Lavalamp
    Well, some of those players actually are literate. Unfortunately, while I am being sarcastic I am also serious. There are credible reports of some university players unable to sign their name.

    I have long been amazed how the NFL and NBA have managed to get someone else to run their farm teams at no cost to them.

    It strikes me as a bit of an immoral business scam across the board; the injury issue is just one more though one of the most important.

    I find it boring and for too slow as well.

  4. Jean says

    I actually wonder why this is not more often asked about boxing. The goal is to hit the opponent and it’s even ‘better’ if you hit him hard enough that you injure him so that he cannot get up. At least in football there is the pretense that violence is incidental and not the goal.

  5. Curt Sampson says

    Well, some of those players actually are literate. Unfortunately, while I am being sarcastic I am also serious. There are credible reports of some university players unable to sign their name.

    And one is a great find for the field of applied mathematician, who almost certainly wouldn’t be one if it weren’t for college football.

    Not that a single counterexample makes a good (or much of any) argument against football, but at least it’s a heartwarming story for maths geeks.

  6. Jean says

    Marcus@#5:
    I agree with you about what it is but where do you see it presented as such? I don’t see it anywhere mainstream. It seems to be mostly presented as legitimate and even glamorous sporting events.

  7. rjw1 says

    Morality aside, It’s certainly boring watching American football. It’s also not surprising that cheer-leaders were invented to fill in the gaps, only test cricket is more mind numbingly tedious.

    My one and only attempt at watching a televised game ended when I fell asleep.

  8. says

    @Curt Sampson – I only skimmed that article, but by his own words he always had more talent for math than for footbal, but it was easier to enlist to a college as a footbal player than as a mathematician.
    So in fact it is not an counterexample at all, it only underlines the sheer absurdity of the footbal culture in USA.
    That aside, I find watching any sport tedious and boring, not only american footbal, but literally all of them.

  9. sonofrojblake says

    Is this the kind of social practice around which Americans should imagine and build their national identity?

    Nasty, racist, violent, obsessed with money, corrupt, massively over inflated sense of its importance and popularity and above all fucking BORING. Sounds to me like the epitome of the US national identity to me.

  10. KG says

    There are similar questions about what almost the whole world apart from the USA calls “football” – soccer. Although the problem of brain damage could in that sport be eliminated by banning the practice of heading the ball, the deep corruption of its world governing body, FIFA, and the common association between fandom and violent far right politics, make it similarly morally questionable to watch it. But in my view, sport should be for fun and exercise – professional sport is ineradicably tainted by nationalism, cheating, child abuse, and financial skullduggery.

  11. Mano Singham says

    Jean @#8.

    I agree with you. I did not mention boxing in my post because I felt that its immorality would be accepted by the readers here.

    rjw1 @#9,

    “only test cricket is more mind numbingly tedious” – Heresy!

  12. says

    Jean@#8:
    I agree with you about what it is but where do you see it presented as such? I don’t see it anywhere mainstream. It seems to be mostly presented as legitimate and even glamorous sporting events.

    That’s because the depraved rich people enjoy seeing the lower classes beat each other for their entertainment. Note: it’s not the beating they enjoy, it’s the ratification of their sense of power and entitlement that comes from being able to enjoy such a spectacle.

    With respect to “where is it presented as such?” – that brings up a whole discussion about morality and how anyone can say “X is wrong” and when. As a moral nihilist, I see that we have two options:
    1) abandon use of moral language entirely
    2) continue to use moral language but acknowledge that it amounts to expressing an opinion
    Saying “boxing is a depraved spectacle” is a short-hand way of expressing my opinion which, naturally, I think the world is entitled to.

  13. sonofrojblake says

    @KG. 12: all of what you say about football (actual football, that is, not handegg) is true, but you missed out one of the most important factors: rampant cheating tolerated by match officials.

    Watch any professional football match and you’ll see players pulling others’ shirts, making deliberate physical contact aimed to injure, or feigning injury in an attempt to gain unfair advantage. And if the ref’s decision doesn’t go their way, it’s common for players to crowd round the referee remonstrating loudly and aggressively. Such intimidation is often rewarded rather than punished. Give me cricket or tennis any day over that parade of millionaire cheats.

  14. deepak shetty says

    While in India , we looked at American football with bemusement – both football and rugby looked to be vastly superior in terms of the way of the game is played (a coach calling all the plays , all the time , really?) and the flow of the game and the way the athletes carried themselves .
    However when most of my peers came over to do their masters (not me!) – they seemed to convert to die hard fans for their Alma mater – They still watch college football , 15 years later . It seems to inspire a particularly tribal mindset.
    One went so far as to say , over the Paterno death , that what Paterno did might be inexcusable , Joe Pa would still be missed – which was shocking to me . A person who hid someone else’s sexual abuse , still worthy or praise because of some ridiculous sport!

    only test cricket is more mind numbingly tedious.

    Can this commenter be banned :)? Or atleast made to watch a few Geoffrey Boycott innings.

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