No football. No Tech vs. Georgia game, no Superbowl, no College Football Championship. It is a thought that seems to loom large on the mind of many Americans, young and old, as the season draws near, it is accompanied by a general sense that the world is ending.
It is the cause of heated discussions, shakings of the head, and possibly even a tear or two from the freshly-graduated-from-high school freshman who has yet to learn the meaning of true suffering.
To which I say: you fools.
I didn’t grow up watching football, and thus I escaped the indoctrination that most American children experience wherein they are told that it is fun to watch grown men fling themselves at each other and then proceed to brawl around with no discernible goal.
You could say I came to the sport later than most, and first attended a Super Bowl party in 2019 (back when we could attend parties).
Most of the people I have told this to shake their hands, laboring under the delusion that I have been missing out on a vital part of the American existence. Believe me, I have not.
I dare you to look up the Wikipedia page titled “List of NFL players with chronic traumatic encephalopathy,” or CTE, an incurable degenerative brain disease that is caused by repeated head trauma and has symptoms like memory loss, depression, anxiety and eventual dementia.
The number of players who have sued the NFL for concussion-related injuries is so huge that the thousands-long list on that Wikipedia page is marked as incomplete. Additionally, a quick Google search reveals that in 2019, 224 concussions were diagnosed by the NFL, a number that is only slightly down from 261 in 2012.
A 2017 study showed that 99% of deceased NFL players who had donated their brains for research were posthumously diagnosed with CTE. The average life expectancy of an NFL player is around 55.
And it is not just strong, healthy, fully grown men who are suffering from this repeated brain trauma; studies suggest that nearly half of all concussions occur during high school football.
All that to say that football is (not-so-) slowly killing its players, and people have a strong inclination to turn a blind eye.
In 2019 the NFL announced a $3 million grant towards helmet safety research, but it does not have the greatest motivation to keep its players safe, because doing so would demand that the game change its nature. And, of course, that is not what the fans want.
Which brings me to the moral objection. Rather than watching the Falcons, I grew up reading vivid stories about Ancient Rome and the violent gladiatorial matches that were the preferred mode of entertainment. Centuries later, as I watch these athletes fling each other to the ground, as I watch the sort of animal delight that many viewers take in the sport, the comparison is inevitable. Oftentimes, the more brutal the play, the louder the audience cheers.
I don’t intend to condemn every person who enjoys watching a football game. Rather, I’d ask them to question – why do we support, glorify and feed millions of dollars into this system that continues to do so much damage? Why is football the pinnacle of American culture, society and entertainment?
There are so many other sports to be a fan of, to spend your hours and your dollars watching. Basketball. Soccer. Baseball, my personal favorite (as long as you are not a Yankees fan).
There are many, many other ways to get the same thrill without watching grown men bang their brains to bits. The world may very well be ending, but it certainly isn’t because there might not be any football to watch for the foreseeable future.