If everything went according to form last night, 30 or 40 million Americans watched the first game of the new National Football League season.
And maybe 280 million did not.
Which means there is hope.
Touchdowns are fun to watch, but the doctor’s bill keeps growing. One of my co-workers grew up in Wisconsin as a Packer fan, but one of his high school classmates was Ann McKee, the brain injury researcher and Packer backer who has been called “the woman who could save football from itself.” The game being as yet unsaved from concussions, my coworker has taken himself out. My own tipping point came a few years back with revelations that New Orleans Saints players were paid bounties to injure opponents. It just seems that autumn has better things to offer.
Steve Almond thinks so. Although he was a much bigger football fan than I ever managed to be, Almond has written a book called Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto. And it’s against a lot more than the violence in football. An excerpt published on the Boston public radio website says Almond claims “our allegiance to football legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and even homophobia.”
A couple of other recent books that might be in order for NFL fans trying to shake the habit are League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by journalists Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru and Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile by former NFL journeyman Nate Jackson. The latter seems reminiscent of the true grit kinds of military memoirs so popular these days, although the soldiers and sailors had reason to believe they were putting themselves through hell for a worthy cause.
Not that I think there’s any big anti-NFL movement afoot. More than 100 million Americans catch the Super Bowl. A lot of folks simply enjoy the game, and then there’s that tribal bonding thing deep inside us that supports true fandom. The NFL will be on TV in my own home this year, regardless of whatever I may be doing. My wife grew up in northeast Ohio and her high school team was undefeated. And if the Browns ever rise again …