Some Final, Hard Words Before Kick-off


I made this comment to the main post on the Super Bowl, and decided that the point is important enough to elaborate on a bit and post here.

I’ve  become depressed talking to people on Facebook and elsewhere about the post. They don’t even pretend to have a real argument. Some fall back on the same rationalizations I explored in the post: one guy on Facebook’s rejoinder consisted of writing, “why worry about this when Congress and the White House are full of liars.” And people “liked” that response, which makes no sense at all.  The rest of the determined Super Bowl fans say, “Yeah, you’re right, but I like football and don’t want to think about it.”  That just is not a rational, ethical response to learning that your support is perpetuating a corrupt system that is exploiting and hurting people. It isn’t.

The NFL is not on the same scale of evil as slavery (yeah, I know, but we need the slaves to keep our lifestyle, so I don’t want to think about it) or the Holocaust (Yeah, but I don’t know any Jews, and the country’s doing well, so I don’t want to think about it) or a daughter-molesting husband (Yeah, but he’s a good provider, and I love him, so I don’t want to think about it). Sure, this is a game, but the process of self-delusion, corruption and passive acceptance of evil is exactly the same. Tell me how it isn’t.

And you know, it takes a lot less sacrifice to stop making it profitable for the NFL to lie and pay young men unto dementia and suicide than it did to reject slavery in the South, or Nazism in Germany, or even for an abused wife to report her husband for raping their daughter…because it is just a game. You can live a very happy life, a full life, a fun life, without the NFL being part of it. It’s corrupting American society and you. Don’t you they see that?

I guess slavery and the Holocaust didn’t have cool commercials, so that’s something…

40 thoughts on “Some Final, Hard Words Before Kick-off

  1. If it’s any consolation, you convinced me. I am having a very pleasant evening without it! I do hope it is still ok to watch women’s college basketball, because I did follow the UConn game earlier today.

      • Okay I admit, my husband called me in to watch the PSA by Budweiser. It showed a poor puppy being bullied by a wolf and a team of Clydesdales coming to his rescue. Oh, maybe that wasn’t an actual NFL PSA.

        All kidding aside (after I watched the commercial) I relayed to my husband all your reasons to NOT watch the Super Bowl and we agreed the reasons actually apply to the NFL as a whole for the most part. He of course continued to watch while I left the room. Not earth shattering ‘share’ numbers but perhaps he’ll mention some of the insights to his co-workers or friends.

        And I doubt it will make you feel any better but I believe most people think of the Super Bowl as an ‘All American’ thing, something to be proud of. Nothing more, nothing less – our version of the World Cup so to speak.

        On the up side the Puppy Bowl absolutely ROCKED! Puppies, billy goats, cats and hamsters with witty commentary – who could ask for more? First time I’ve ever watched it but by far the best ‘Bowl’ game I’ve ever seen.

  2. Let us assume, arguendo, that the idea that playing football causes head injuries is proven to the same extent as Fermat’s Last Theorem, that the NFL would know this if they had taken reasonable measures, and that they failed to disclose this risk to football players.

    Let us also assume, arguendo, that NFL teams employ “felons, thugs and spouse abusers”.

    How is culpability imputed onto those who watch the Super Bowl?

    There is no way that merely watching the Super Bowl either “orders, advises, counsels, rewards, or encourages” the NFL to engage in the unethical conduct described above.

    • erm…. the Kind of Financial backing the NFL gets from advertisers who thrive on viewership and the Financial backing the NFL gets from fan purchasing merchandise IS reward and encouragement…

      That’s irrefutable.

        • What? The calculation is that without the hits and the violence, the sport has little appeal. The sponsors are paying for the sport as it is, which is what makes it popular, which is what is damaging player brains. The sponsors encourage the conduct, and reward it.

        • Is this some section of law school you just hit? It’s twice you’ve invoked it on unrelated topics in the past 48 hours…

          No they aren’t paying them “because” of the unethical conduct, but the unethical conduct is so endemic that paying for the NFL is tacit approval of the conduct at this point.

  3. I wonder how effective a modern-day St. Telemachus would be running onto the field and trying to stop the game?

    Not very effective I think.

  4. Jack, I must confess.

    I was working during the whole first half. I came home during Katy Perry’s inexplicable halftime show. I hadn’t had dinner, so I made some eggs. Then I took my tablet and sat in a quiet room and watched some Youtube and listened to some music.

    And then everyone in the house screamed about something. And I had to find out what happened.

    I tried. I really did. But I got swept up right at the end.

    I didn’t even actually care who won! I was just happy that Brady got to his sixth Super Bowl! That was had my heart locked up for a while, and once he got there, I thought I would be free. But should I have even cared about that?

    Did I try not to watch it just because I was already OK with either outcome? Or because I couldn’t watch the whole game?

    I try to live a virtuous life, and I don’t think I consume any other entertainment that is directly harming its participants (except maybe the odd MMA fight). But this might be the first time I have to really examine if I should keep watching.

    It’s almost surprising to me I even have to talk about this, because I didn’t like ANY sports until maybe three years ago, and only football. I still think baseball is boring and basketball is impossible to follow.

    And I criticize other sports sometimes for being overpaid. And I read that book Pros and Cons (written before OJ Simpson!), talking about all the legal problems some NFL players get themselves into.

    Maybe the NFL is counting on this. Whatever emotional investment we give our favorite teams makes it hard to sever the connection, even knowing how troublesome the entire enterprise is.

    None of this is meant to be an excuse or to justify it. I just want to report that I really did try to avoid it, and I failed.

    At least the season’s over for the next six months. Maybe in that time, I can shake this spell football inexplicably has on me right now. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

      • (replying to Jack’s Feb 1, 11:33 pm)*
        I appreciate Jeff’s comment, too (Feb 1, 11:31 pm). Especially his last paragraph. But I was flabbergasted when he wrote “…the odd MMA fight.”
        You could not pay me enough to watch MMA, or boxing.

        I am struggling to overcome cognitive dissonance in the connection of your commentaries to, and ethics analysis regarding, American football – where, for reasons I am still unable to understand, let alone explain, I evidently think the same ethical grounds (whether participants are paid or unpaid) which are solid rock for me to stand on when shunning MMA are somehow still “squishy” grounds to me with regard to shunning American football at least beyond “safety first” Pop Warner level children’s play. Even with Pop Warner leagues, there is the fair question: “Why allow and encourage kids to play a game we know would result in serious injury to many of them, if they played it when they were older?”

        *Jack, I hope you don’t mind if I use that parenthetical lead-in more regularly. Because of the way threads in your blog get indented, I personally need that kind of notation to make sure I am understanding to whom a particular comment is in reply to – not in all threads, but in enough threads that I have just decided that I’m going to lead the way, whether others choose to do the same or not, until the thread structure is clearer by way of, say, some new organic feature or setting in the blogosphere.

  5. Football, horse racing, dog racing, boxing — all sports that are unethical at their core because of the physical harm done to the participants. Then you add in the money, cheating, corruption, etc. — the list of unethical sports becomes even longer.

      • If I find Johnny Treeneck, whose life has not been spent gaining any other skills in life that could make him marketable in any other industry, so his usefulness in life will consist of the most miserable jobs in the most miserable conditions with the most miserable pay, and I offered him $5,000,000 to cut off his pinky finger, or an ear, or to jump off a 2 story building onto concrete, or shoot himself in the foot or leg… is that not unethical?

      • It’s unethical because it pays desperate people to harm themselves for entertainment. It’s unethical for the same reason many reality shows are unethical, or drunk-dancing. It’s a n abuse of power. And, like college sports, the system sustaining it is corrupt.

        • (reply to Jack’s, Feb 2, 10:13 am) Jack, even if people who participate either inside the ring or outside it are not “desperate” and not involved in any pay-for-play scheme, do you consider boxing inherently unethical on a basis of being “harmful,” at least when each participant is expected to punch another participant? (I do.)

          I think it is perfectly all right to punch a bag or other inanimate object, and even to do so in a way that simulates punching another person. But I think actually punching another person – except when necessary for a person’s self-defense when threatened by violence from another person – is inherently unethical. Therefore, such violence or threat of violence pre-meditated within a “gaming” or sporting context is also unethical.

    • There is obviously a grid, however, on one axis is likelihood of injury, another axis is severity of injury…we could even make it a 3-D chart and add an axis for “nature of injury” (although for simplicity sake that could fall under “severity of injury”). EVERY sport carries a probability of harm. All possible injuries within each sport spans EVERY level of severity at some probability, however minute. Harm can be classified by nature – be it physical, mental, emotional, etc…

      What’s the cut off? Or is the determiner actually whether or not the sport can be played without the harm being a de facto component of the sport?

      • Nature/severity of the injury is the test I think. If I play professional soccer (without head butting of course), I will run the risk of leg, knee, ankle problems, but I won’t forget my kids’ names if I suffer those injuries. And it is also not pre-determined that I will suffer those injuries. With boxing and football, you lose your entire identity.

  6. I will admit that I watched the game, primarily because I was at a regularly scheduled outing to a local bar with my best buddy. And sure enough, there was at least one concussion. I seriously suspect that there is so much money involved that it will almost take an act of Congress to stop this mayhem. And it is paradoxical that the equipment could be improved to the extent that it no longer produces drooling idiots on every tackle. Unfortunately, I’m not sure but what the players would redouble their viciousness if they felt safer doing it. That idiot who purposely stepped on two separate quarterbacks legs and is still employed comes immediately to mind.

    • (reply to dragin_dragon, Feb 2, 10:29 am) I watched the game too, d_d, and share your doubt that equipment and rules designed to enhance player safety will result in safer play in this particular sport. When success on your “job” requires you to literally collide with another person at high speed in some manner, my understanding of human nature is that the “employee” (player) will take whatever advantage might be afforded by equipment designed for more safety to thus pursue gaining an edge by engaging in ever more hazardous collisions.

  7. If the medical problems are as bad as you say, I think our society could do without football, or at least football as we know it. But I can’t let this pass:

    “The NFL is not on the same scale of evil as slavery…or the Holocaust…or a daughter-molesting husband… Sure, this is a game, but the process of self-delusion, corruption and passive acceptance of evil is exactly the same. Tell me how it isn’t.”

    It’s more than just a matter of scale, it’s a matter of free will. Now that the damage is no longer being concealed, every football player is free to leave the game, or to demand changes. Unlike slaves, children, and Holocaust victims, football players get to make a choice. That may not be enough to make it ethical, but it’s still a big difference.

    In an earlier comment, texagg04 asks, “If I find Johnny…and I offered him $5,000,000 to cut off his pinky finger, or an ear, or to jump off a 2 story building onto concrete, or shoot himself in the foot or leg… is that not unethical?” Whatever your answer to texagg04’s question, surely making the offer is not nearly as unethical as shooting him in the foot yourself, or pushing him off a building, or pulling out a knife and lopping off one body parts? It bothers me that you think so little of the freedom to choose.

    • But there’s a difference between Me doing it to Johnny, me doing to johnny for compensation, Johnny doing to himself, AND me compensating johnny to do it for a ton of cash…

      Those last 2 are “free will actions”, but when you don’t just do something for money but for ALOt of money, sure “free will” is present but at a considerably difficult to turn down incentive.

      I think that mitigates the free will aspect a bit.

      • (that is to say, I think counter-intuitively, the self-inflicted harm aspect of Football becomes MORE ethical as compensation goes down and players are less beholden to money to do what they do)

        (But not much more ethical)

    • Granted, free will is a distinction, although I question how much real freedom someone has whose entire life has revolved around football. But it’s a valid point. Of course, if the true danger of the enterprise has been hidden from the players, then it’s still not consent.

  8. I have this saying (unattributed) hanging in my office: “Great leaders are always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.”

    Okay, Google + “brainyquote” attributes the saying to General Colin Powell. I just now did that checking, for the very first time in almost two years.

    Full disclosure: The saying was hanging there when I moved in. I don’t know who put it there. It is not in a high-visibility place. But I can and do see it often. I suppose I have tacitly decided to leave it there, just to ponder it. Not to argue its merits or lack thereof with anyone – just to help me to think. And, if I am being completely honest, I have probably left it there also out of laziness. My office exhibits chaos in a way which probably reflects how I think – and act, or don’t act – more clearly than I care to admit.

    Where am I going here? In a succinct way, I want to relate watching American football to something that I hope is virtually universally detestable. Moreover, I want to articulate that relating of football to a detestable thing in my own head, in a tolerably simplified way. (Even I have a limit to tolerance of chaos – and to order, too – as well as to over- and under-simplification.)

    Enter the wordcraft of “bumper stickers.” (Call me a great leader later.)

    Having been quite thoroughly persuaded to agree with what Jack has said, here is the gist of my bumper sticker thought about football. This is only an early edition, for self-motivation; “your mileage (and wording) may vary:”

    American Football =
    Slow-Mo Snuff Porn

    I considered “Soft Core” but that wasn’t detestable enough. Once I became comfortable with “Snuff,” the “Slow-Mo” part fell into place quickly.

    Now there just might be reason to hope that I won’t be watching football next season. I really don’t have that long left to live. I can scratch “attending a Super Bowl game” from my bucket list, and find an ethical replacement.

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