Football season gets underway in earnest this weekend—Philadelphia will be clad in green on
Sunday Monday, and Twitter feeds will be filled with both exuberant cheers or cries of anguish and often both. Beer and meat will overflow in man caves throughout the nation.
I won’t be playing along.
Don’t get me wrong: There’s part of me that still loves football. I played (badly) in high school, reserved my Sundays for Christian Okoye in the late 1980s, and cheered wildly when David Tyree made that helmet catch a few years back. (I didn’t live in Philadelphia yet, so give me a break on that last one, Eagles fans.)
Maybe I’m just getting old. Or maybe the game is. These days, though, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Here are three reasons I won’t be watching football this weekend—or this season.
• It’s turning the players’ brains into pudding. Everybody likes to point out that the NFL got off cheap with its $765 million concussion settlement with former players last week. After all, the league has infinite resources! But consider this: Defendants like the NFL settle lawsuits like this mostly when they’re worried about having to pay a lot more money in a judgement at trial. The fact that three-quarters of a billion dollars is the inexpensive way out of this mess should tell you everything you need to know what the league thinks the game is doing to its players’ minds and bodies.
The evidence is growing: Former NFL players under age 49 experience symptoms of dementia at a rate 19 times that of the general population of men their age. In a recent study examining the brains of 35 former pro football players, 34 had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease that causes Alzheimer’s-type symptoms in its victims. And even a recent study purporting to debunk the link between CTE and football “found that retired NFL players had a higher incidence of mild cognitive impairment than the general population.”
Yes, the NFL is cracking down on big hits and doing more to protect against concussions. But the evidence suggests the problems are also caused and exacerbated by all the repeated “subconcussive” hits a player takes throughout the game. There’s no such thing as a good, healthy high-speed collision between two large men. Watching a game is less fun for me knowing it’s going to cause some of its participants to end up like Jim McMahon.
• It distorts the purposes of public institutions. This is part of our general sports-craziness in this country, but football—the most popular sport, by far, in America—is a special case. In Philadelphia, taxpayers coughed up half the $512 million construction cost of Lincoln Financial Field. Our schools were in trouble then; they’re in worse shape today, and nobody seems willing to foot the bill.
And, uh, do we really have to review what’s happened at Penn State the last few years? How about Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel getting suspended for selling his autograph when his school sells replicas of his jersey? No? Let’s move on.
• It warps those of us who watch it. On the eve of the 2012 NFL season, Andy Reid’s son died of a heroin overdose. Eagles fans responded to that horrific event by giving Reid an exceptional amount of crap during the ensuing season. Screw simple humanity! We didn’t make the playoffs! Football, it seems, does a really good job of making otherwise-good people reveal their most horrible selves.
All of this makes the game … not much fun. Sports are fun when they’re simply games. When they become billion-dollar enterprises that thrive off the exploitation of their workers, some of the pleasure is lost. Go ahead and watch the games this weekend. I’ll be doing something else.