It is that time of year again. Televisions are on sale. People are planning to make their famous dip/appetizer. Jerseys are clean and ready for wear. Parties are being planned. Commercials are being anticipated. It is coming… the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl is a cultural event. It brings people together. No one wants to be the person who missed that funny commercial or did not see the great play when we resume our daily lives and have our daily interactions on Monday. However, here are some reasons to find a new tradition to celebrate:
Everybody was expecting me to start with concussions, right? Give me a minute and we’ll come back to that. Let me start by saying, I played football in middle school and high school. For some reading this, they might use that to justify a critique of me as a “failed” football player seeking some sort of retribution with this post. However, I wanted to mention it in order to be able to say that I have played the game on the field. I have been in the locker rooms. I have seen, first hand, the kind of mentality the football fosters. It is not something to celebrate.
I once had a coach tell me that football is about controlled violence. It is violent to plan to attack someone. It is violent to attempt to hold a line by pushing and punching. It is violent to have a moment of action ended by the throwing of a human being to the ground. Making violence acceptable as game does not just impact the players, it makes us all contributors to the idea that men are/can be/should be violent. We have seen what happens when that violence goes beyond the field; we have heard from some of the women who bore the brunt of that violence.
Not all football players nor all football fans are men. However, gender is a social construct and the game of football is clearly a celebration of masculinity. We are in a cultural moment where many men need to reassess their vision of what it means to be a man. We need to think about how we act in the workplace. We need to think about what we consider courtship. We need to think about who we are in relation to others. Part of that can begin with: why celebrate violence?
Race and Indifference
This is an issue that plagues all sports. No doubt about it. However, in football there is a particular indigence to the role that race and power play in how we understand the sport.
The past two seasons, the NFL has taken a prominent place in our conversations about race in the U.S. Colin Kaepernick’s bold decision to take a knee led to both others joining the protest and him being ostracized from the league. Let’s be clear, Kaepernick’s protest was not about veterans and those who think it was are missing the point. As Kaepernick has clearly stated:
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.
Kaepernick’s legitimate message got drowned out by his dissenters and detractors who sought to paint him as selfish and ungrateful (the racism that underlies those types of critique cannot be avoided). We also cannot and should not ignore the correlation of the fact that an athlete with a once promising career, no longer has a job right after using his platform to call attention to injustice.
Similarly, recently a baseball franchise, the Cleveland Indians, decided to stop using their racist mascot “Chief Wahoo.” This step is clearly not as desirable as changing their name altogether. Phillip Yenyo, the executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, was quoted critiquing the need for the change to take until 2019 and wondering why the name wasn’t changed altogether. He’s right.
However, in response to the change, many directed their eyes to racist slur “redskin” that is the team name for the NFL’s Washington DC franchise. Despite that, team owner Dan Snyder and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell continue to be unfazed by appeals from native communities.
The NFL seems to think that sport is above having to address these concerns. Whether dismissing Kaepernick’s assertions about his employment as a “team’s decision” or ignoring calls to remove a racial slur from its team name, the NFL continues to prove that it is – at best – indifferent to the issues of racial injustice that even its players feel it is necessary and important to address.
Yes, concussions! Our awareness about what football does to a person’s body has changed in recent years. The suicides of prominent players and even the film Concussion brought a great deal of attention to the dangers of the sport and the league’s complicity in downplaying these dangers for decades. The NFL has responded with new concussion protocols and attempts to mitigate the dangers. However, to this point, there is still sufficient reason to believe that football is dangerous for the athletes.
We can try to ignore that football is dangerous. We can outlaw it for children. We can even avoid it ourselves, even Super Bowl Halftime performer Justin Timberlake was quoted as saying his son “will never play football.” However, in the end, we are asking people to risk their cognitive health for our entertainment. All sports in some ways risk our health (as a former pitcher who had three arm surgeries, I am aware of the risks); but, what is too much to ask?
So, I guess my question is: who would like to join me in not watching the Super Bowl this year, next year, from now on? I think it is the responsible decision.