Why I’m not watching football right now

This past Sunday, my wife asked me, “does football season start this weekend?” Her only barometer for when the season starts is when I start watching; since she hadn’t seen me watching she didn’t know the season was already a month old.

It’s true: Week 5 just ended and I haven’t watched a single down of the 2017 NFL season.

Naturally my wife asked me why I wasn’t watching. I struggled to put it into words, because there are a number of reasons; it isn’t a simple answer.

I used to be a diehard NFL fan, watching football for about 12 hours every Sunday and three more on Mondays. The number started to decrease three years ago when we cancelled our cable subscription, mainly because I didn’t have easy access to the games (only getting two per week over the air, and the NFL steaming package was ridiculously expensive1). But truthfully I was OK with that decrease because—and this will sound familiar if you read my post on Facebook—watching the NFL has made me increasingly uncomfortable. And I think over the summer I just hit the breaking point… and certainly nothing that’s happened this season has made me regret it.

(Sure, I’m missed some great moments—like the Packers’ comeback against the Cowboys yesterday—but I’m happy reading about it on Deadspin for now.)

What’s making me uncomfortable? Here’s a sampling:

Concussions. This is the big one: The league’s stance on the impact of repeated head trauma and concussions, and the long-term consequences… the way the dragged their feet on admitting the dangers, refused to pay for health care, continued to promote “big hits”, refused to make changes to make the game safer… I could go on. Read more here and here.

The way the league arbitrarily disciplines its players. From Ray Rice to the Saints to Tom Brady to Ezekiel Elliot, there are sooo many problems with the way the league handles this I don’t even know where to begin. Except to say this: In no universe does it make sense for someone with no background in either football or law to serve as the sole judge and jury in these cases. Except that’s what the league has done in inexplicably appointing its commissioner as its arbiter of justice. And he (unsurprisingly) always gets it wrong. And yet the league is fine with this continuing as-is. Read more here and here.

The “domestic violence problem”. First of all, I think it’s important to point out that the league doesn’t actually have a domestic violence problem; hand-wringing columnists will tell you it does, but statistics show that NFL players are no more or less likely to commit crimes than any other group (and are far below the national average for their gender and age group). It’s just that they’re famous, so they’re in the news. (And that they’re almost always black, and those hand-wringing columnists are almost always white. Isn’t that curious?) Which makes it a PR problem for the league. Their response? The league decides it needs to become “a leader in the domestic violence space” (their words). Of course, since issuing that asinine statement, the NFL has managed only to issue one tone-deaf and inadequate response after another while making scapegoats of shitty players and excuses a’plenty for those that can still play. And I can only shake my head in dismay. More here, and for the love of God, watch Katie Nolan:

Their joke of a “breast cancer awareness” program. Read about it here; it’s nothing more than pandering to an audience (women) that they want to make more money from. Not convinced? Read this one. And then go back and think about the “domestic violence space”, and tell me if you think that’s really about making a difference in the community or teaching players to value and respect women, or if it’s just another part of the “pander to women and turn them into paying customers” playbook.

Colin Kaepernick and the “anthem protests”. I could write 10,000 words on this, but I don’t think I need to say anything here, do I? That the NFL has not unequivocally taken a stance behind its players and supported their first-amendment-protected rights is disgraceful enough. That they then tried to turn the whole thing into an ad campaign about “unity,” thus completely missing the point? I mean, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised but… come on.

I guess the other thing that really got me going about all this is just how many fans don’t support the players. People booed! Their own team! How can you boo players who simply don’t want to see any more innocent people get killed? Who have taken a peaceful, silent protest to draw attention to this issue? That they are 100 percent within their rights to do? If that’s really how ignorant football fans are, well then… it makes me uncomfortable to be associated with them.

Oh, and this past weekend’s publicity stunt by Vice-President Pence was the icing on the cake.

Those are five huge issues and I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting. It’s all just had a cumulative effect of, “I’m tired of this, it isn’t worth it, I don’t want to engage with it any more.”

At least right now. I’m not saying this is how I’ll feel forever. My mind might change. I might start to miss it. Maybe the league will change! Anything is possible. But for right now, I just can’t support it the same way. I’ll be satisfied checking the scores and reading the updates online.

1I can’t find the exact numbers but I believe it was USD$280 in 2014; That’s for 256 games, and they’re only on three days a week. (In comparison, the NBA is USD$160, for 1256 games, on almost every day.) Curiously, this year, the NFL has a new streaming partner in Canada, DAZN, which promises every NFL game for $20/month. For five months you’re looking at only $100 – Canadian – so that’s a great deal! It’s almost a shame I don’t wanna watch any more… but the fact that the service has been terrible and unwatchable doesn’t make me feel too bad.