Not a snap. Not a down. Not a last-second Hail Mary bouncing off outstretched hands before victory is snatched inches from the end-zone turf.
I’ll watch none of them this season. I’m done with football.
“America’s game,” as it’s commonly known, was once such a vital part of my life that my then-girlfriend, desperate to get me out of the house on Sundays, bought me a tiny Sony Watchman TV so that I could watch games as we drove to various destinations. When my beloved New York Giants upset the then-undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, I boldly wore my Big Blue sweatshirt into an office full of shell-shocked Pats fans. Even now, I still have many of the football cards I collected as a kid.
Football brought me closer to my father and uncle and aunt who loved the game, and after church, it was always the joyful noise of Sundays in our household. I quickly fell for the speed, swagger, and, yes, the violence of the game.
Yet I haven’t seen any pre-season games, don’t know the Opening Day matchup on Sept. 7, or early predictions on Super Bowl favorites. I can no longer endorse a financially risk-averse league that only pretends to care about the long-term health of its players. Nor can I endorse the team owners who’ve blacklisted Colin Kaepernick for having refused last season to stand during the national anthem, in a silent protest against racial injustice and police violence.
Formerly with the San Francisco 49ers, the free agent quarterback remains unsigned. In the off-season, more than 20 other quarterbacks, some downright laughable, were signed by NFL franchises as starters or backups. Yet not a single team could find a place for the only signal caller among available QBs who has actually led his team to a Super Bowl.
Kaepernick has supporters. Hundreds protested outside of NFL headquarters recently, and other players are continuing his pregame protests. Yet NBC Sports’ Mike Florio calls Kaepernick the “most polarizing player in the NFL, even though he’s not in the NFL.” Former fellow QB Michael Vick, a convicted dog killer who was quickly welcomed back into the league after serving time, even suggested Kaepernick cut his hair and “go clean cut” to be more appealing to teams. This was nothing more than a dog whistle about black respectability — an insinuation that Kaepernick’s mighty Afro intimidates white people.
I’m among those who believe some owners are quietly colluding against Kaepernick as punishment for a political stance openly criticized by President Trump, who has ties to NFL figures. His inauguration committee received millions from team owners, including Pats head honcho Robert Kraft, who recently gave Trump a Super Bowl ring.
Kaepernick’s treatment was the last straw for me as a fan. I was already unsettled by dire reports about the long-term effects of concussions on players. Then the American Medical Association last month published a Boston University study that found that 110 of 111 brains of former NFL players examined had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head.
When Gisele Bündchen this spring mentioned that her husband, Pats QB Tom Brady, suffered a concussion last season, the league’s only statement was “there are no records that indicate that Mr. Brady suffered a head injury or concussion, or exhibited or complained of concussion symptoms.” Brady neither confirmed nor disputed his wife’s comments. Team officials, of course, denied that their star had had a concussion.
While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell claims he wants to protect players, his main job is keeping players on the field, fans in the stands, and billions flowing from fat network and online deals. It’s not talking about the debilitating effects of a game where players are getting bigger and faster, and brain-rattling collisions are highlighted as much as athletic grace and prowess.
I’m sure I’m not the only one struggling with what it means to be a football fan these days, and for many their affection for the game will overrule any nagging doubts. For me, I can no longer justify my love for a sport that disrespects the players who have helped make this league the cultural behemoth that it is.
Giving up my football fandom won’t be easy. It’s been in my life as long as I can remember, and evokes warm memories of games watched with family members no longer here. Certainly, my abandonment of the sport won’t get Kaepernick a roster spot, force officials to take seriously its concussion protocol, or matter one iota to the league’s bottomless revenue, but I’ll no longer take part in supporting its hypocrisies. Autumn won’t be the same without football. Still, at least my Sundays — and my conscience — will now be clear.