Is it time to turn off football?

Unless you've been living in a cave the last few days, you know that an American pro football player was seriously injured early in Monday night's game. His heart stopped after he put what seemed to be a routine hit on another player, and the medics were frantically applying CPR as the ambulance drove the lifeless guy to the intensive care unit at the local hospital. At last report, he was still there, in critical condition and on a ventilator.

The game, between the visiting Buffalo Bills and the hosting Cincinnati Bengals, was an important one in deciding where various teams stand in the playoffs that begin on the 15th. The Bills and the Bengals are among the league's best. But last night it was announced that the game, so highly anticipated before it was suspended in light of the injury, has been declared null and void. The league's owners are talking today about how to determine where everybody stands in light of the cancellation.

As readers here know, I follow football closely. In fact, I give that sport more attention than any other, with tennis a close second. But for a while now, I've been wondering whether watching football is immoral. I gave up looking at boxing years ago, and the other gruesome forms of fighting that are allowed these days are obviously out of the question. Maybe I need to put football in the same category, rather than participating as a spectator in its barbarity, not to mention its overwhelming commercialism.

Now, I know that what happened on Monday night to Damar Hamlin may have been a fluke thing. Cardiac arrest has been known to happen when someone gets hit in the chest in any sport. Kids have died of "commotio cordis" after being struck in the wrong spot, at the wrong nanosecond, by a baseball or lacrosse ball. 

But that's not what really casts the pall over football. Nowadays we all know that as a routine matter, football players suffer brain damage, and later in life their minds are so far gone that they die prematurely, even by suicide. While the drama of Damar Hamlin plays out in the media and in the hearts of gridiron fans, the real problem is the harm to the gray matter that is inherent in "tackle" football.

Earlier this season, a star quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, sustained a couple of concussions in a row, and despite all the league's posturing on the subject of player safety, he's still going out there taking a beating just about every Sunday. You can't tell me he's not going to pay dearly for that someday.

When a player goes down with a serious injury, there comes a point at which the announcers solemnly tell us that "he's moving his hands and his feet, and that's a good sign." That was last night with Hamlin. So let's get back to the action, and the commercials. God forgive us.

Most of the Big Daddies of pro football are risking their lives strictly for money – the big money that's generated when we watch the spectacle on TV for our amusement. The cycle starts in high school. And with even college players now able to be paid for playing, the temptation of the dough-re-mi is getting ever worse. We don't allow minors to smoke or drink, but somehow they are considered mature enough to make decisions that could ruin their health, and all in the name of mass entertainment. Not to mention the recent phenomenon of legalized gambling, which puts an extra coat of sleaze on all the proceedings. 

Maybe this week should be the last straw.

Can I live without football? It would be extremely difficult, but maybe it's time to bite the bullet and at least try. I've got too much invested in this season, but maybe I could go cold turkey starting the day after the Super Bowl. No football for a whole year. It's worth considering over the next seven months.

I could still tailgate.


  1. I’ve love football for a very long time. I welcome the break after the last pro game to the beginning of the fall season. (I ignore preseason games) I see the game as a complicated, physical game of chess and I enjoy the surprise of plays that shouldn’t work. But, do.

  2. For me all pro sports are akin to the Roman gladiator spectacles or feeding the Christians to the lions…bread and circuses for the masses to take their minds off and away from the serious deficits of every day existence created by the ruling classes.
    Barbarism period

  3. I gave up football in 2017. There was one Sunday I woke up, looked at the slate of games, and thought 'what's the point?'. I decided to go all-in on US soccer, who had just been humiliated by an inferior side and missed the 2018 World Cup. I ended up choosing two teams to follow: Dortmund, where the US's best player was playing at the time, and Leeds, a once-mighty European power who had found themselves in the wilderness. It took me a few years to find my way through the tides and eddies of the game (good God, there's a lot to learn), but I've finally settled in on watching every minute of every Leeds United match I can. It's exhilarating. I don't recall cheering for a team like this since the Blazers made their run with Clyde, Terry, Jerome, Buck, and Duck. Were they nearly relegated last season? Yes. Was I depressed about it? Also, yes. Did I run around my house screaming with joy when they pulled a rabbit out of a hat on the last ten minutes of the last match of the year? You bet your ass I did. This year has been no different. They took down Liverpool at Anfield. They caused havoc last weekend against Saudi-backed Newcastle, grinding out a 0-0 draw that left fans of the Magpies seething.

    My Damned United.

    I'm never going back.

    I would have never thought I'd become a soccer fan. I'm certainly not a fan of the local side, for a variety of reasons. But might I suggest picking up a team in England. Not one of the big name brands, but one further down the table. Or even do what I did and choose a team in the Championship and dream of one day playing against the big boys. I've never felt anything like it.

  4. "commotio cordis" was thrown out there about 30 seconds after he went down. This is impossible with a chest protector that they all wear. I wonder what else it could be? Possibly a documented side effect of something that was mandated so you could go to work?

    1. Within minutes the ambulance leaving, Twitter was filling with vaccine conspiracy theories relating to this. People see a possible and try to sort it into a bid that makes sense to them. I have been watching football for over four decades and have never seen anything like it. Commotio cordis makes sense to me, this was a routine collision that happens a thousand times per weekend, but whatever the case,
      this was not a routine injury. Nothing about this would tempt me to watch soccer.

    2. The people who want to tie every death to the Covid vaccine are lunatics who need to get a life.

  5. I spent high school in Texas, where the Great God Fuh-Boh ruled all. I occasionally hear about my old classmates, and the particularly telling ones are the various death announcements pointing directly to football-related damages without actually acknowledging that the town pushed a bunch of teenagers to early deaths out of a desperate need to relive their own football days. The most heartbreaking are from complications from steroids and human growth hormone, openly pushed in the 1980s by the head football coach and his staff under the idea of "you want to WIN, don't you?" (I say "heartbreaking" as a slight pun: one of the worst cases involved a player who permanently fried his heart from HGH abuse aided and abetted by the head coach and supplied by a local doctor famed as a steroid-pusher and big contributor to the local Baptist church. About fifteen years after high school, the damage was so extensive that he needed a heart transplant. He repudiated football and completely remade his life after the surgery, but died about ten years later from complications with his immune suppression drugs. Meanwhile, the principal who backed and protected the coaches got a new high school named after him at about the same time. And people wonder why I don't go back.)

    1. Heartbreaking, but not surprising.

  6. It’s a capital idea, Jack!
    No tailgating.

    “Man, I'd swear, I'd give the whole thing up for you.”

    ‘Coney Island Baby’/Lou Reed

  7. Good piece on this in WA Post: unlocked:

  8. I’ll join your one year break!


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