This may be hard for you and me to believe, but there are people in this country who don't watch football. Life is not easy for them -- their neighbors point and whisper, the CIA is constantly tailing them and, of course, they have to pay higher taxes -- but they survive. Could you be one of them?
What would it take for you to give up football?
I don't mean this as one of those silly hypotheticals, like: Would you give up football for $1 million and a Klondike bar? This is a conscience-searching, soul-defining question. How much suffering should others endure for our entertainment?
A person who enjoys watching other people die is sick, a person who can't stand the sight of blood from a pin-prick is weak, and the rest of us are scattered on the spectrum between them. So what would it take? If one player died on the field in every NFL game, we would feel too guilty to watch. If one player suffered a season-ending injury in every NFL game ... well, that basically happens, and we watch. How bad would it have to get for us to look away?
With every passing week, there are new stories about former football players who can't walk, can't think straight or, most tragically, can't stand to live. I spent Monday afternoon reading about the suicide of former
There are many reasons football is our most popular spectator sport -- it has the perfect pace, just the right amount of scoring and luck, and it's ideal for television, to name a few -- but high on the list is this: it has always seemed to feature the appropriate level of violence.
Players get drilled, but they almost always get up. At worst, they break a limb or are too woozy to return. But we don't see them killed and we rarely even see them bloodied as much as boxers.
We get three things out of this:
1. The undeniable visceral thrill of seeing a great hit.
2. The emotional attachment that comes with knowing these men are willing to endure pain for the game; it gives the games a gravitas that is missing from, say, an NBA game.
3. A clear conscience. We usually see the players get up. Truly awful, career-ending, I-can't-look-at-the-replay injuries (the most famous example:
But it has become increasingly apparent that football features an
Maybe that's all that matters to us. If we saw players get paralyzed all the time, we would stop watching. (And they'd stop playing.) But when we know that so many players are headed for miserable retirements ... well, that's easy to block out. It's a cold and callous approach, but we all take it, on some level: out of sight, out of mind. And when we hear the story of former Steelers center
This is the elephant in the stadium, growing larger every month, with every news story and scientific analysis of a deceased player's brain. NFL commissioner
Goodell's recent contention that the league already plays 20 games -- 16 in the regular season and four in the preseason -- is disingenuous. Nobody plays all four preseason games, kickoff-to-clock expiring. And teams take precautions in the preseason they never take in the regular season -- offensive coordinators are more likely to max-protect for their starting quarterback, and defensive coordinators don't want to show their best blitz packages.
Goodell, NFL Players Association executive director
This latest story, about that Penn lineman named Owen Thomas (Do you remember his name? Did you click on the link?) was one of the most disturbing stories yet. According to the
In other words: Owen Thomas probably did not die because of a single hit or ignorant trainers, but simply because he chose to play football.
This is starting to feel a little bit like
I'm having a hard time shaking the story of Owen Thomas, but I suspect I'll block it out by the time the games roll around this weekend. I make my living as a sportswriter. I watch football mostly because it's my job. At least, that's what I tell myself.