I had thought this would be the year I gave up football. I mean, really, the sport is indefensible. I read Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto by Steve Almond and found the book thorough and fair. His indictment covers the head trauma, the body trauma, the racism, the sexism, the homophobia, the bullying, the violence, the obscene money that flows to "owners" not the athletes, the exploitation of hopeful young men in the college minor leagues, the warping of participants' values ...
The only horror of football that he missed (of which I know) was the exploitation of the cheerleaders: did you know that for some teams these women have to pay to be allowed to gyrate for spectators?
I read Crusty Old Dean on why a Christian might not feel right watching football -- and I had no counter argument. The "sport" runs a "shameless con game" on fans and players, while literally killing the latter.
And I read a long interview with retired potential 49er star Chris Borland on why he gave up the career he had shaped his life around after one successful professional year. His decision was
This is a devastating take.
So I considered carefully, and decided I just had to stop watching football. And then the NFL pre-season (a travesty itself) and the college season (also usually begun with more travesties) came around and I found myself tuning in as usual. So in this post, I'll try to enumerate what enabled our national gladiatorial displays to get their hooks in me.
- It all started with women's rugby. No, I never played, but I lived with an ex who played at a very high level and I came to appreciate the athleticism of this apparently brutal contest.
- I blame Ronald Reagan for the next phase of my descent into football fandom. The '80s were a dreary decade during which the U.S. funded "counter-revolutionary" terrorism in Central America, half the gay men in my age group in San Francisco died of AIDS, and a President sinking into dementia smiled beatifically. Oh, and the 49ers won four Super Bowls. Yeah! -- there was something to cheer about.
- And there were friends to watch football with: friends for whom the epidemic and protesting imperial wars made for a strong bond. We are depleted but we still get together.
- And on top of all that, there is joy in the athletic feats on the television and in the ferocity of competition. When a game is a good one -- and not all are -- that fierce struggle is marvelously engrossing. That tennis match last week between Serena and Venus Williams took me into that state of glorious concentration on strength, agility and courage that I also get from football. Maybe if there were enough tennis, I would switch. But I seem to crave that feeling; it takes me out of all other concerns for a brief period. Am I saying that watching young men beat each other up is restful? Perhaps I am.