How to Keep Watching Football?

So yeah, you might have heard about this little problem the NFL had over the last year, where one of its high-profile players hit his fiancée in an elevator and knocked her unconscious, followed by the player’s team tweeting that the fiancée apologized for her role in being beaten, followed by (five months later) the NFL giving him a two-game suspension, followed by public outcry, followed by the NFL slapping together a new domestic violence policy with a minimum six-game suspension (not retroactive, of course), followed by release of the actual video of the incident, followed by the NFL and team suspending the player “indefinitely” and the NFL claiming they never saw that video, followed by several sources saying, “Uh, yeah you did” (not to mention that the player in question was reportedly completely fully honest about what happened in the elevator in an interview with the commissioner) … and that’s not to mention another high-profile NFL player being indicted on charges of negligent harm to a child for hitting his four-year-old son so hard with a switch that he drew blood and raised welts.

Someone wrote to me and asked “how do I keep watching football?” I thought it was a good question, and one I’ve struggled with for years.

Let me start off by saying that if you have decided that you no longer want to give football any of your money or attention, I have no problem with that. I’m not here to talk you into it. I hope you can still enjoy the Out of Position series without thinking of the NFL, but hey, I totally understand if you don’t want anything to do with football.

I’m still going to watch, and I’m going to explain it by starting with something that actually probably weakens my case. This domestic violence incident is probably the worst the NFL has handled an incident in my recollection, but the NFL has a history of misbehavior, including but not limited to their cover-up of concussion data and evidence, their handling of PEDs and other drug use, and their lip service to player safety while pushing for more games and refusing to mandate actual improvements to safety in the game.

So this is nothing new: the NFL is run by terrible people who care more about making money than about the welfare of the people playing the game or their loved ones. They will promote breast cancer awareness and yet allow a woman to apologize for being knocked unconscious.

Here’s the thing, though. Their changes on concussion policy, their changes on domestic violence: those all came after public outcry. When enough people start yelling and telling them it’s time for change, they do react (another example: when the above incident brought people’s attention to another player who has already been convicted of a domestic assault–throwing his girlfriend onto a bed full of loaded guns and yelling at her that he’s going to kill her–the player was held out of last Sunday’s game, even though the conviction happened months ago). Nobody watching football seems to care about PEDs in the game the way they do in baseball, so the league has been slow to adopt testing for them. So my price for watching football is going to be keeping an eye on the reporting and the things happening in the league, and raising awareness so that the NFL feels the pressure to do the right thing. If they can’t police themselves, the public will have to police them.

(They’re not alone, by the way–you think the NBA didn’t know that several of their owners were virulent racists? You think they would ever have done anything about it if tapes and e-mails hadn’t been made public.)

So that’s my answer. You can borrow it if you like, or find your own. You could focus on the many football players who do great things for charitable causes. Whatever you do, I’m glad you’re thinking about it. The silver lining, if any, to these incidents is that we become more aware of the problems, more sensitive to it, less likely to let similar problems pass in the future. Hopefully that holds true of the NFL, too.


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