Fall Without Football?

Last week I watched Public Television’s Frontline documentary based upon the recently released book “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and The Battle for Truth.”

Because ignorance truly is bliss, the vast majority of football fans will pass on the book and film. And you can be damn sure the NFL suits are working overtime to pressure ESPN and other media outlets to suppress the book’s findings. In this drama, the NFL is Big Tobacco in the 1980s. The book was a story immediately after its release, but since then it’s been the proverbial tree in the forest.

Despite knowing much more about the detrimental long term effects of playing football, I still watched a lot of it last week—a little Washington v Oregon, UCLA v Cal, and Seattle v Tennessee. Yes, I’m part of the problem.

Not that anyone should generalize from me, but I think I could kick my forty-five year old football playing and viewing habit if there were substitutes on television on fall weekends. I haven’t learned to eat lunch on Saturdays without some sporting event on television. We used to get a cable station, Universal Sports, that was made for me. It broadcast major marathons, triathlons, and related endurance events around the world.

If the Chicago Marathon and Ironman Hawaii World Championship were on television last weekend, I would have happily watched them instead of my beloved Bruins (especially since they were taking it to the Golden Bears). At first glance, those appear to be poor substitutes because there’s zero physical contact, but upon closer review, they’re excellent ones because they’re physically demanding in their own way, often equally dramatic, and in the end, tremendously compelling.

When I watch cyclists attack in the Alps during the Tour de France, and then the chaos of the shattered peloton, I get just as excited as when a hard hitting safety lights up an unsuspecting receiver on a crossing route. I get similarly fired up when watching a sprint at the end of a long distance run or open water swim. Last summer, after watching a stage of the Tour marked by a steady stream of attacks and counter-attacks, I told the Good Wife, “It was like watching a heavyweight fight.”

Speaking of which, it’s been decades since I watched a professional fight. Truth be told, I think boxing is barbaric and have zero interest in it. Don’t tell my 20-something male students, but I’m even more repulsed by mixed martial arts.

I won’t be surprised if some fall day in the not too distant future I find other things to care about besides whether UCLA beats Stanford and wins the Pac-12 South. And if I end up thinking about football the way I think about boxing and mixed martial arts.

[Postscript—Here’s a really excellent discussion/debate about the substance of the book and film.]

3 thoughts on “Fall Without Football?

  1. I’m afraid football fans like you and I are likely the exception rather than the rule Ron. I too watched the Frontline special on football and was angered by the discovery that the NFL not only knew about the problem with head concussions but even agreed it was a serious medical problem in a report of theirs back in 2000 or 2002 but kept that information from the public as they proceeded to deny it for the next 10-11 years. Even more shocking was the debilitating and life-threatening condition found in head concussions appearing as early as high school football players.

    Like you, boxing and the caged-animal exhibitions of Ultimate fighting repulse me. There is the belief by some men that such behavior is indicative of maleness but I would suggest that any brutal contact sport reverts back to the pathology of those who enjoyed blood sports in the Roman coliseums. There is something damaged in the brain that relishes in the maiming of other human beings or watches a sport expecting to see such behavior and then react with utter dismay when the results are career-ending or worse, life-ending. Some of these are likely the same people that lay money down to watch dog fights and cock fights in secluded places to avoid the law that prohibits them.

    • Thanks Larry. We’re definitely the exception. I’m surprised you haven’t been kicked out of Texas yet. Or maybe you’re still in the football closet. One challenge in changing course is that football fosters community. Whether it’s seeing friends at a Friday night high school game, tailgating at college and pro games on Saturdays and Sundays, or rehashing games at work on Monday. Some endurance sports, like cyclocross, have community elements built in, but they can’t even begin to rival football traditions. As our Congress so wonderfully illustrates, there aren’t many things that bring wide swaths of people together like Superbowl commercials. :)

      • Oh, I like football Ron. Always have. Just looking at it a bit more critically now, which is probably more than most Texas football fans will, except parents of football players of course.

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