I absolutely love watching football. But I will not continue to watch amazing athletes destroy their brains for our entertainment. The last game I watched was Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. After the death of Junior Seau in May 2012, I could deny the truth no longer.
Steve Almond has written “Is It Immoral to Watch the Super Bowl?” over at the NY Times.
Recently, though, medical research has confirmed that football can cause catastrophic brain injury — not as a rare and unintended consequence, but as a routine byproduct of how the game is played. That puts us fans in a morally queasy position. We not only tolerate this brutality. We sponsor it, just by watching at home. We’re the reason the N.F.L. will earn $5 billion in television revenue alone next year, three times as much as its runner-up, Major League Baseball.
The problem is that I can no longer indulge these pleasures without feeling complicit. It was easier years ago, when injuries like Stingley’s could be filed away as freakish accidents. TV coverage was relatively primitive, the players hidden under helmets and pads, obscured by fuzzy reception, more superheroes than men. Today we see the cruelty of the game in high definition. Slow-motion replays show us the precise angle of a grotesquely twisted ankle and a quarterback’s contorted face at the exact moment he is concussed.
The struggle playing out in living rooms across the country is that of a civilian leisure class that has created, for its own entertainment, a caste of warriors too big and strong and fast to play a child’s game without grievously injuring one another. The very rules that govern our perceptions of them might well be applied to soldiers: Those who exhibit impulsive savagery on the field are heroes. Those who do so off the field are reviled monsters.
The civilian and the fan participate in the same basic transaction. We offload the mortal burdens of combat, mostly to young men from the underclass, whom we send off to battle with cheers and largely ignore when they wind up wounded.
I think that more and more the answer for me is yes, it is immoral to continue watching American Football. I have already made my decision to stop supporting the NFL as it exists today. Major changes would have to be implemented before I’d be willing to watch again. And I think this sentiment is growing. Slowly, true, but growing nonetheless.
Will you be watching the game this weekend?