The fall Sunday afternoons of my childhood were spent watching NFL games with my father.
While baseball was his (and, thus, my) first sports love, my dad also enjoyed football - a sport which, like baseball, he had played.
We watched the NY Giants – then still called the New York Football Giants, although the baseball version had already fled to the West Coast – playing in Yankee Stadium, and wearing uniforms that were always described as “Honolulu Blue.”
The AFL was just getting started, and the league – and their local entry, the Patriots – was considered something of a joke. Even the TV station that broadcast them was a wannabe: Channel 6 from New Bedford, a low-wattage outfit that showed mostly a snowy, jittery screen.
So we were Giants fans: Frank Gifford, Andy Robustelli, Dick Lynch, Y.A. Tittle, Rosie Grier, Rosie Brown, Phil “Chief” King, Kyle Rote, Charlie Conerly…
By watching football at my father’s side - he watched and appreciated sports with an athlete’s eye – I learned about the game, and learned to enjoy it.
But somewhere along the way, I lost interest.
I might have watched a few games during high school, but don’t recall watching many games beyond that.
Never heard of it.
And the more I thought about professional football, the less I liked it.
Too violence-glorifying, too flag-waving, too militaristic.
While I remained a sports fan – Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics - I went decades without paying much attention to professional football.
And then the Patriots got good.
And my husband and I found ourselves turning on the games on Sunday afternoons.
I watched my first Super Bowl in 2002, the year the Patriots, led by Tom Brady, won.
Our collective - Jim’s plus mine - interest in football waxed and waned with the fortunes of the Pats. Jim loved basketball, so I watched a lot of Celtics; I’m a Red Sox lifer, so he watched a lot of baseball.
But in the last couple of year’s of Jim’s life, when getting out and about got a a bit more difficult, we started watching a lot of NFL games.
Sunday afternoon. Sunday night. Monday night. Thursday night.
Half the time, there was a game on. And we watched it.
Still, there was always something unsettling about it.
All that violence, the martial music, the pumped up testosterone, the conflating of sports with patriotism, the grotesque adulation of athletes, the grotesque amounts of money floating around, the grotesque tobacco-industry-like posture towards brain injuries, the grotesque exploitation of college athletes in the NFL’s plantation-style minor league. All that violence.
Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that football was the veal of sports.
If you thought about where veal came from, you wouldn’t eat it.
And if you thought about what professional football was all about, you wouldn’t watch it.
At least I wouldn’t.
So I didn’t think about it.
And Jim and I watched a lot of football last season, right on up to the Super Bowl.
Well, my father, who was my first football watching buddy, died in 1971. And my husband, who was my second football watching buddy, died last winter.
Meanwhile, the NFL just keeps going from bad boy to worse boy.
Nonetheless, as we neared opening day, I was thinking about getting back into the football-watching swing, if only to remind me of something that my husband and I enjoyed doing together.
But with so much free time these days to think about the NFL, I’ve decided to quit.
I’m quitting because, in the world the NFL operates in, smoking a doobie is a worse offense than cold-cocking your girlfriend – that is until the video’s released.
I’m quitting because, if someone’s a talented athlete, teams turn a blind eye toward whatever they do in the outside world – until they get caught, at which point there’s a wrist slap. That is, until the media starts to howl.
I’m quitting because NFL star Ray Rice decked his fiancée, and NFL star Ben Roethlisberger sexually assaulted a young woman, and NFL star Aaron Hernandez likely killed three men because he felt disrespected.
I’m quitting because:
The National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at “notably younger ages” than in the general population. (Source: NY Times)
I’m writing this on a Sunday.
The Patriots are playing the Vikings,whose star running back was just arrested for over-zealously disciplining (translation: beating) his 4-year old son.
And I’m not watching the Pats vs. the Vikes.
Because I quit.
Not that the Krafts, who own the Pats, or Roger Goodell, who runs the NFL, could give a crap.
I don’t own any player shirts. I don’t wear a cap. I don’t go to any games in person. I don’t “play” fantasy football. I don’t drink beer.
They won’t miss me at all.
When I was a kid, my father listened to the Friday Night Fights on the radio. I sometimes listened with him.
Boxing used to be a big deal sport in this country.
Now, not so much.
Maybe the NFL will go the same way. Hard to imagine that parents are going to encourage their kids to play a sport that will give them a well-above average chance of becoming brain damaged.
But there’s an awful lot of money at stake here – billions and billions – so I’m sure the brain trusts at the NFL are figuring out how to “manage” their violence problem, while juggling it all against the trade-offs around the game’s visceral appeal as a macho, gladiator, violence-glorifying blood sport.
Whatever they end up doing, they’ll be doing it without me.
Maybe I’ll be tempted back in if the Pats end up in the Super Bowl. But for now, I’m off the game and, as far as I’m concerned, the game’s off.
Nice Sunday afternoon out there, by the way.
I’m going for a walk.