I originally posted this as a contribution piece to the website Hamilton-Griffin.
Let’s just get this out of the way first and foremost – I am a gigantic football fan. Some of my earliest memories from childhood are of running around on the blacktop on top of the garage across from the old football field at the University of Connecticut while my parents made hot dogs and hamburgers on a tiny grill. I played football with my brother on countless summer days, until he got too big and I realized that I really didn’t want to get tackled by a six-foot athlete. I support the New York Giants first and foremost, but because my family is from the Philadelphia area I’m fine if the Eagles win, too.
I know all of the rules and all of the regulations surrounding football, and it’s not because I’m trying to get men to like me. I just genuinely love the culture and camaraderie of football and sometimes, it’s fun to watch guys strap on pads and slam into each other over and over again. And when the game is played right, it’s a beautiful thing. There’s a reason why so many people watch and love football – because there’s a lot of tradition around it. I tailgate with the same people every year, and Football Sundays are a wonderful excuse to sit inside and watch The Red Zone all day.
So why I am boycotting a sport that I love for the entire 2015-2016 athletic season?
I am tired of what the NFL has come to represent – a money-grubbing, abusive cult of personality that continually disrespects its female fanbase, and is a huge source of danger to its players. This has been something I’ve felt long before Deflategate. Deflategate, and everything adjacent to it, has been a cover for much more serious issues that the NFL has refused to address in recent years, especially with the reign of Roger Goodell. Conversely, Deflategate is a symptom of a larger problem of permissive, under-the-table dealings that serve to only subsume the larger viewing audience into a culture that does not question. It only watches.
The NFL’s attempts to bring women into the boy’s club have been interesting at best, and laughable at worst – One of the biggest examples of this has been the Tampa Bay Buccaneer RED Movement that has been touted as a brilliant way to bring women into a bigger understanding of the game, but in an organization that still doesn’t know how to handle its rampant domestic abuse problem, these kinds of programs seem like too little, too late. (UConn, too, has tried to bring more women into their football program, but through offering seminars wherein men “explain” the rules of football to women over cosmopolitans and with the promise of a free, pink helmet. Why can’t I just talk about football without the gendered accoutrements?)
There have been a lot of articles about the domestic violence trend that courses through the NFL – the number one story about this in the past year was obviously the Ray and Janay Rice abuse case, which was rightfully discussed over the course of a year. But that argument has been done to death. Instead, I’m going to state that the cult of masculinity is not only harmful for the women who participate in this culture, but also dangerous for the players themselves.
In 2002, forensic pathologist Bennett Omalu discovered a progressive degenerative disease that he named chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. He discovered this after examining the brain tissue of several former NFL players who passed away due to dementia or suicide (CTE can only be definitively diagnosed postmortem). Omalu’s findings were largely ignored by the NFL, which led to many players attempting to get the truth out in extreme ways. NFL standout safety Dave Duerson sent a text message to his family requesting that his brain be used to study the traumatic effects of concussion on football players, and then shot himself in the chest. He was found to have CTE after an autopsy was performed. And of course, one of the more famous examples of CTE-influenced suicides is the tragic death of Junior Seau, whose family has opted out of an NFL settlement and is proceeding with a wrongful-death suit. More than 20,000 players will benefit from a proposed settlement that could exceed $675 million. But the NFL seems to assume that money will fix the traumatic aftershocks of repeated concussions.
Omalu’s story will be shown in the upcoming Will Smith film Concussion, which originally was meant to be a hard-hitting expose of the failures of the NFL to protect their players. However, the NFL ended up coercing the production team behind the film to “avoid antagonizing” the organization, and also so the NFL’s image could be protected. In a statement, president of Sony’s domestic marketing Dwight Caines said they would “make sure we are telling a story and not kicking a hornet’s nest.”
This is a hornet’s nest that has already been kicked, Mr. Caines. The hornets are out and they are furious. The NFL is the clueless bee farmer attempting to shove the hornets back into the nest. And while my boycott of this organization is probably not going to do anything on a grand scale, it’s something that I feel good about for the time being. It is the actions of individuals that can change everything. One only needs to look at Bennett Omalu, or Junior Seau, to be certain of that fact.