Football is a Reminder That The World is Cruel and Death is Inevitable

And other answers to questions you didn’t ask.

“I used to like watching football, but I’m having trouble because of the preponderance of concussions. What should I do?”—Pigskin Pat


You probably shouldn’t let your kids grow up to be football players, it’s true. Maybe let them be punters. That seems maybe the safest. Field goal kickers, too. But if your kids are sports-inclined, incline them into some other sports. I thought they would have figured out a cure for concussions in football by now. Lasers. That’s generally the cure for everything I imagine. But probably some different kind of helmet. They went from leather helmets to these hard plastic ones because everyone had broken craniums. Not a great thing to get. But concussions are pretty bad, too. Football players endure tons of hits to the head over the course of even one game. Get one concussion and the next one is easier to get. Get a bunch and you are forever changed.

By watching football, are you complicit in its crimes? We’re all complicit in everything, technically. We imagine that we have the power to effect the things that happen around us. As if by not watching it a trillion dollar operation like the NFL or the NCAA might suffer. They generally don’t. But by watching, cheering and egging on the action, are we also responsible for the hideous outcomes for current and former players? I don’t know, maybe? Many would still play, knowing all the dangers, even if there was no one in the stands. Alternately, are we called to watch because the participants do risk such mortal damage to themselves and their futures? That their sacrifices not go unseen?

The relaxing thing about watching sports is the sense of wonder and amazement. It’s sometimes hard to believe human beings can jump that high, throw that hard and tackle that tough. Watching sports is second only to playing sports. And I never played football. Not because of any inherent danger, other than the usual danger of getting my ass kicked. I was 5’6” and 155 pounds in high school. Playing football never occurred to me. I’d played baseball and basketball growing up, to various degrees of success. I was pretty good at baseball until someone threw me a curveball. I had no idea what to do with one of those whatsoever. And didn’t get very many hits after beholding its awesome power. In basketball, I was a lot better when guys weren’t standing in front of me with their hands up. Sports was a lot more fun when I was young, before curveballs and basic defense. So I’ve spent the last 30 years retired, enjoying it from the sidelines.

And I do love watching sports. Anything with a score, I will watch. Sometimes I pretend things have a score, like opera and ballet. And I watch them on TV for a while. If Christians vs. Lions were a thing that was televised, live from the Coliseum, I would probably watch that but feel bad. Bad because Christians probably don’t taste that good. It’s all that hypocrisy. I’d feel a little bad for the Christians, too, but I’d watch it. And I’ll watch the NFL this year. I’ll be mad they haven’t figured out a better helmet that doesn’t hold your brain in such a way as to scramble it. And I may silently wish that most of these football players had chosen another sport to be involved with. But I will watch.

Football has taken over as the country’s sport from baseball. Baseball takes too long. It is America in the 1800s. Football takes forever, makes you stand around most of the time and then eventually kills you. Now that’s America in the 2000s, so far. Surely football has its faults. Chiefly among them the severe damage it inflicts on its players and their families. It is a game spent mostly standing around, waiting for something to happen. Great for commercials. Bad for sitting in the stands.

Pat, you can probably donate to Boston University’s CTE Center, if it will alleviate your guilt from watching football. Money usually helps feelings go away. Life is a series of bad choices that ultimately lead to terrible consequences. Would you rather watch cable news cover the end of the world? Would you rather watch ice caps melting, polar bears drowning and hurricanes coming ashore? Stick with football. NFL football, at least, is paid professionals who can make up their own minds about the sacrifices they make. College football will depress you. I believe the children are our future. Teach them to play basketball and let them lead the way.


Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works in a bookstore.


Image: Roger W via Flickr