I know, shocking. I was born in Wisconsin and raised to root for the Packers. I lived in Denver and became a Broncos fan. I now live in Indianapolis where the Colts are the local religion. I used to be a sportswriter.
Shocking, yes, but true. I no longer like football.
Actually, I need to clarify. I still like the game of football as it was originally conceived: run or pass the ball downfield toward the opponent’s goal line. I love athletic contests. I love strategy. I love teamwork. I’m even OK with the idea of tackling someone who has the ball.
But I no longer like what football has largely become, from the pros down to even youth leagues: a violent, dangerous sport with a swaggering culture.
I first began to dislike football when I traveled with my college’s team while I worked for sports information. I couldn’t believe the arrogance among coaches and players. I hated the way these un-gentlemen were idolized by the student body. And that was at a small Christian college.
Still, I continued to watch the game for the athletic skill on display, for the strategy, for the teamwork, for leaders and classy guys like Tom Landry, Brett Favre*, John Elway and Tony Dungy. Besides, football is America’s sport. To dislike it makes you un-patriotic, or certainly very unpopular in an NFL town.
But then the stories of the egos and the abuses kept coming in. I saw testosterone out of control, leading to arrogance and overblown battlefield and warrior metaphors at best — and cheating, assault, animal abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, rape, and even murder at worst. I saw universities overlook poor academic performance and moral behavior as long as the team was winning. I saw how even in a 3rd-grade flag football league, players were talking about killing the other guy, were strutting around and picking fights. I saw a high school culture that reveres football players and their coach as near-deity, certainly as higher-ranking citizens.
And that was before the recent increase in awareness about concussions and other injuries. There are still a lot of classy guys in the sport (see: Manning, Peyton), but the violence in the modern game was the final blow, no pun intended. Did you know that at the pro level, more than nine out of ten players report having a major injury over their career? And that the risk of death from neurodegenerative disorders among NFL veterans is three times that of the average male? And that head impacts in second-grade football are almost as severe as at the college level?
And this just in: An NFL-funded study released a 306-page report yesterday, finding that the average high school football player is nearly twice as likely to suffer from a concussion as a college player.
The current “armor” worn by players makes them feel invincible, both when giving and receiving hits. The reality is that despite technological advances in helmets and other padding, injury rates have increased. The body — and the brain, especially — was just not meant to withstand that type of impact while encased in a hard plastic shell. In fact, the shell may actually contribute to more damage.
So the more I have seen and learned, the more distasteful the sport has become. I’ve never liked boxing, and tackle football is no less violent. Over the last year, I’ve found myself watching less and less on TV, skipping past the football articles in Sports Illustrated, and paying little attention to the scores and articles on ESPN.com. I’m happy when my friends are happy for the Colts, the Packers and the Broncos, but deep down I have to sadly admit that I really don’t care for football anymore.
*Then it turned out that Favre had an ego that wouldn’t let him retire as a Green Bay legend. Instead, he bit the hand that fed him, took down two more franchises and their coaches, and thought it would be a good idea to text photos of his privates to a female intern.