How the NFL Proved I’m an Awful Person

August 14th, 2016. It’s not a day that will ever become a national holiday. It’s probably not even a day that will come up as a jeopardy question. It’s the first day that Colin Kaepernick decided to protest the national anthem. Since then, about a half-dozen events have permanently changed the social landscape of the United States. These include:

  • Donald Trump, a man who was caught on tape admitting to sexual assault, has suggested a travel ban based on religion and was sued by the united states government for racist housing practices. He was elected not in spite of those things but because those things appealed to a large enough portion of one of America’s two political parties for him to win. This victory suggested that Kaepernick was far more correct about the declining state of America’s social fabric than anyone really understood.
  • American comedy shows basically became a medium to bash this president. In fact, he has more or less become omnipresent in every piece of life in American culture. Anything with the slightest bit of political context is immediately framed in real time in the context of whether it is pro or anti Trump.
  • The FBI has been investigating a sitting U.S president since essentially the day of his inauguration. The Republican controlled House refuses to hold this president legally or morally accountable for any of his illegal actions we can currently either imply or outright prove. Constitutional scholars pretty much unanimously agree a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. We are on the verge of a constitutional crisis.
  • Harvey Weinstein was ousted as a serial sexual predator, resulting in the widespread #MeToo movement that has created a completely different understanding of sexual harassment women receive in American culture and already begun to radically shift how sexual harassment accusations are received.
  • Parkland High School became another school on the long list of those who have experienced a school shooting. Because the victims were in a suburban area of relative socioeconomic priveledge and because they were old enough and well spoken enough, they were able to become defacto political operatives overnight that were far more effective than any politician. They used their social media savvy, persuasive speaking skills and personally story to completely change the conversation around gun control. Like marriage equality and medical marijuana, gun control seems like a matter of “when” rather than “if” because of the complete 180 these kids

And because of all these massive social benchmark moments, Kaepernick’s kneel had become an afterthought. This was really the best thing that could have happened for the NFL. First, everyone forgot about the fact their sport is probably not physically or morally sustainable due to the brain damage caused by playing it. Then, Trump fell like a gift onto the NFL’s lap. His extremist stance on the protests gave the owners an out that enabled them to appear to side with the players while also conveniently helping them ignore the issues the protests were meant to highlight.

The owners temporarily half-protesting against Trump seemed to be the end of it. A small minority of players would continue to kneel, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would quietly pressure ESPN, NBC, FOX and CBS to stop showing the protests on TV, and that would be the end of it.

Or that’s what a competently run organization would do. Instead, the NFL and it’s 32 Trump supporting (not to mention most of them donated to his campaign) owners and it’s certainly Trump supporting commissioner decided to ban the protests outright on May 23rd, 2018.

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Artist’s rendition of the owner’s meeting

 

It’s a dumb move because it restarts a fight the owners had essentially won on accident. It’s not only unnecessary, but probably illegal for a whole host of reasons. The reason they did it is the reason they always react to every controversy in the clumsy and heavy-handed way they always do.  The 32 NFL owners are a group of men who are mostly white (31/32) billionaires who live in the United States of America. White collar crime is literally not prosecuted because it would cause too much damage to the economy. These are men who essentially always get what they want. It’s not good enough for them to have a quiet and gradual victory because everyone forgets about the kneeling. Their victory must be loud and obvious and absolute because their egos demand it.

Kaepernick was surrounded by social conservatives, from players who were almost universally very religious and mostly from southern states, to coaches, executives and owners who were almost exclusively white and exclusively from similar souther backgrounds. He was in a unique position to see the social virus that was supporting racial discrimination in American police forces. It’s the same virus that led to Trump soon after.

A large corporation having conservative values or being morally dubious is not unique. What is unique is to explicitly side with the Republican party and their constituents. By taking the extra step to explicitly ban the anthem protests, the NFL is saying that they support the status quo. The NFL by extension is at best indifferent to the regular violence inflicted on African Americans by law enforcement in this country. The NFL by taking this arguably illegal action is aligning itself with Hobby Lobby’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” in saving money on health coverage for its female employees and Chic-fil-A’s belief in “traditional marriage.”

To put it shortly: watching NFL games has become morally indefensible.

Reason one is that the game is probably literally killing most of its participants. That really should probably be enough on its own, but one could at least make the argument that these are all willing participants. Reason two is that it supports the toxic culture of deep religious conservatism at all costs. Watching NFL football games empowers and supports their actions and by extension supports the system that allows African Americans to be murdered by law enforcement officers without repercussions.

BUT…

Most of my clothes were produced by defacto slave labor. All of my electronic devices were made affordable by paying literal children two dollars a day to work sixteen hour shifts. It’s a completely fair statement to say that almost every corporation in the world is not just evil, but irredeemably and comically evil. The only morally defensible action is to sell all my belongings and live off of nature a-la Thoreau’s Walden.

BUT…

I have watched multiple football games every weekend since I was about four years old. I have participated in somewhere between 1 and 4 fantasy football leagues since the 7th grade. I have invested probably close to 1,500 hours in lifetime in the two copies of EA’s NFL video game Madden that I have owned in my lifetime. I have listened to 1-4 podcasts every week since my freshman year of college concerning the NFL.  I have read countless articles on everything from roster moves to its cultural impact. I have far surpassed Malcolm Gladwell’s famous magic number (10,000 hours) to achieve expertise in the intellectual pursuit of football watching and analysis. I will never become a football coach at any level high enough to support a family. This career path was essentially closed off for me in the 7th grade when, depending on whose recollection, I either chose or was forbidden by my mother from playing tackle football. I can identify most defensive coverages on a television broadcast. I am in the top percentile of knowledge among football fans, just a step behind the writers, gamblers and superfans that can name the backup left tackle for the Green Bay Packers without googling it.

It has provided very little practical value in my quality of life or advancement as a human being.

I have about four people in my life I can have a substantive conversation about football with. Everyone else in my life either watches just husker games or not at all. Only one of these people watches as much as I do. It has not made me any new friends, just acquaintances in fantasy football leagues I’d never speak to again when the leagues eventually broke up. It’s helped me survive my social awkwardness in certain environments knowing things about sports.

It’s not that it’s valueless. It’s that this time could have been better spent in a million different ways. I am extremely overweight. This would not be the case if I had spent even a fraction of my football related activities at the gym. I have spent an inconceivable amount of time arguing, watching and analyzing a game that is not my profession. I could have studied and not flunked out of an academic scholarship. I could have donated my time to a political or charitable cause.

Football’s greatest value is distracting us from all of the terrible things in the world and in our lives for a three hour period. At a certain point, I feel like I have to just find a new hobby.

Someday, when I’m a much better person, I’ll find a better way to invest my time. It’s that same lazy mentality that allows things like school shootings to continue. It’s a really shitty feeling.

 

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