I said I’d do it, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow through.
I’ve followed through.
The college football regular season ends in a few days. The Canadian Football League season has ended. (I haven’t cared about the NFL for several years.) I’ve not watched one football game this summer or fall, a promise I made a few months ago.
Why? There’s fundamentally something wrong with a sport that turns its players’ brains to mush.
I’ve made no secret on this blog that the amoral NFL combined with its lust for corporate dollars led me to boycott the league five seasons ago. The other day, when my family and I were visiting friends for Thanksgiving dinner, I sat through roughly one half of one game (not my house, so I couldn’t demand the game be turned off), and at one point my younger son turned to me and asked, “Dad, when did you last watch an NFL game?”
For those of you who also want to know: the New England-Seattle Super Bowl.
Ditching the No Fun League was easy, but tuning out college football and my favorite league of all — the CFL?
Because there’s fundamentally something wrong with a sport that turns its players’ brains to mush.
I’ve railed against the hypocrisy of the NCAA before; the organization touts its efforts to put the student before the athlete, but in reality the NCAA will not stand up to its corporate overlords or make reasonable accommodations good for the athletes. (Tournament games starting at almost 10 p.m? Come on.) Moreover, I’ve demanded for years that college athletes be paid, an idea the money-loving NCAA leadership believes would permanently damage college athletics.
And then there’s the CFL. I have no gripe with the league, but earlier this year I could no longer deny that professional football leagues on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border were not doing enough to prevent head injuries/concussions, strongly sanction players who committed penalties while targeting players or offer the highest level of care for the players once they moved into retirement.
Put the lust for dollars and the hypocrisy about amateurism together and I was still willing to look the other way and watch college football and the CFL. But once I could no longer deny the horribly long list of players dying young (or showing signs of CTE or dementia at too young an age), I knew what I had to do: Stop watching. Stop supporting.
But could I really do it?
Yes, there are some days I think I’ve made my point and should give in. (Following my many Canadian and American friends on Twitter as they celebrated in the days leading up to the Grey Cup game last weekend was not easy; I’ve been to two Grey Cup games, and the fun and the camaraderie matches anything that I’ve experienced in the U.S.)
I can’t give in. And not out of some faux superiority that suggests because I started something I will stick with it. Rather, I can’t give in because I don’t believe that over the past few months that anything substantive has been done to make the sport safer.
I’ve read too many stories about men my age (and younger) who are shells of what they used to be; their families living each day with the uncertainty of how their football-playing husband, father or son will feel physically, mentally or emotionally.
I could live with the hypocrisy of amateurism if I believed college football was safe. It’s not. I could embrace the CFL again if I believed professional football was safe. It’s not.
I’m not on some crusade; you won’t find me at any point leading some kind of protest against football or advocating for legislation to kill the sport. And I won’t call you out for watching the sport.
But, for me, there’s fundamentally something wrong with a sport that turns its players’ brains to mush.