The NFL kicks off this evening. Expectations are high and excitement is in the air, but this football fan finds himself wondering the following: If he really cares about NFL players, would he watch this or any other game this season?
The reality of the NFL is eerily similar to what boxing used to be—the more we’ve learned about the sport’s impact upon players the more thorny and complicated watching it has become. I’m emphasizing watching football on TV because the NFL’s largest source of income, by far, are the various contracts it maintains with media networks. Many of us will go to games this fall, and buy jerseys and other memorabilia, but the number one way most of us support the NFL is by turning on the TV on Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday…) With the season about to begin it’s worth pausing and asking ourselves What, exactly, are we supporting when we turn on a football game?1
The appeals of football are many—its varied tactical complexities, the sheer physical virtuosity of its players, and of course its violence. It’s fun to watch a game with friends and family, it’s enjoyable to argue stats and debate trade options, and let’s not kid ourselves—we love it when a receiver gets laid out as he cuts across the middle of the field. Fantasy football leagues allow many of us to create our own teams, and then test our management skills against our fathers’. Football truly is an activity that can bring us together—nearly 112 million of us watched the Super Bowl this past year—and games can provide us with a sense of community and shared purpose that are generally positive and healthy.
Let’s shuffle all those positives to one side of the scale and look at what weighs down the other side. Before going further I’d like to emphasize that despite the fact that some of what I’m about to write might sound otherwise, I don’t believe NFL players are victims in any senses. They’re grown men who get paid huge amounts of money to play a sport they love. That fact is awesome for them; it also doesn’t negate a single thing that follows.
- I don’t feel compelled to spend much time listing football-alternatives. The point here isn’t what else could you watch instead of football. Besides, this is a very wired America, 2017, and there are quite literally millions of other ways to pass four hours on a Sunday, none of which you need me to tell you about. [↩]
- If anything, it can be argued that reversing technology will actually improve players’ health, as less available protection demands less force when tackling [↩]
- I see analogs here to current music-delivery services such as Spotify, YouTube and Pandora. We know those platforms screw over artists, and yet we really want to listen to whatever music we want, and for as little as possible (preferably free). Given the success of these services it’s clear that our desires for cheap music-on-demand outweigh our desires that artists earn incomes appropriate to their works. [↩]