Recently, Will Leitch of the magazine New York wrote a very interesting column about the moral implications of continuing to watch the NFL in this era of greater concussion -repercussion awareness. You can read it here.
Leitch’s point is well-taken, and addresses some of my own concerns with being an NFL fan. For a while I have thought about distancing myself from professional football. But if I’m being completely honest, concussions and other serious injuries are not the sole cause of my reluctance.
Really, the broader problem with being an NFL fan is that it is just not as much fun as it used to be. As the NFL has grown into the hegemonic behemoth of the popular sports landscape, as its influence has extended into the general culture (NFL games are routinely the highest rated television shows of each week), the meaning of a being a football fan has expanded as well. The widespread acceptance both of fantasy football as a sort of substitute for sports gambling has also changed what being a fan means.
To be a knowledgeable football fan in this day in age is a lot of pressure. The amount of information out there about football and its immense popularity means that conversation about football is nearly omnipresent. Fantasy football has helped change the equation too. Being a fan used to mean watching your team on Sunday and maybe following them through the week between games. Now, being a football fan now means being conversant with every team in the league, every injured starter, every free agent and their salary cap ramifications. It’s become too much like being a GM.
The effect of tremendous success, and the potential for wealth it creates, is also having a detrimental effect on the league and its teams. You can see the damage that the need to succeed is having on the league’s front offices. In the last few years we’ve had accusations of espionage levied against multiple teams. The New Orleans Saints were found guilty of paying players a bonus for injuring opposing players. The NFL commissioner is now such a powerful figure that he is the one who hears appeals of his own sentences.
Being an NFL fan used to entail watching the highlights of the other games around the league. Now if you watch ESPN looking for football stories you’re likely to get domestic violence, assault, drunk driving, cheating, drug use, formations guarded more closely than state secrets, and of course the bevy of players suffering from dementia and other debilitating physical conditions. Every so often one of these players commits suicide at a depressingly early age, usually making sure to preserve his brain so scientists can use it to prove that football made him this way. Is it any wonder given this context that the media spend so much of their time focusing on a prayerful, charitable backup quarterback with nothing but kind things to say about others?
People used to debate whether football or baseball was the better metaphor for life. That debate is over. Football isn’t just a metaphor for life any more. It is life. It contains all the worst, most exhausting aspects of life. It is all-consuming, and I for one am tired of being consumed rather than being a consumer.