I’m an American man, so I’m supposed to be obsessed with sports, most particularly the National Football League. I’m supposed to look forward to Monday Night Football, Thursday Night Football, and of course an entire day of football on Sunday. Depending on where you live, this applies even more so to college football on Saturdays.
As our society becomes ever more atomized, spectator sports are among the last common languages remaining among American men. Everyone listens to different music on individualized playlists, watches their personal favorite shows found somewhere on 600 cable channels, reads books from the sub-sub-sub-genre that most appeals to them, picks and chooses the news sources that confirm their personal biases, and hates everyone who didn’t vote for their favored political candidate. The only small talk left is sports and the weather, so it’s useful to be able to “speak sports.” But I didn’t watch a whole lot of football this season.
I used to love the game of football. I watched it with my father and grandfather growing up, everything from the NFL to the local high school rivalry game. For years we even had a family tradition of a pre-meal touch football game on Thanksgiving. Watching an NFL game can be incredibly entertaining because of the amazing athleticism of men playing at the absolute peak of human physical performance. Who doesn’t enjoy watching Odell Beckham reeling in a one-handed diving catch, Aaron Rodgers hurling a ball 70 yards with pinpoint accuracy, or David Johnson dancing his way through a defensive line?
But the NFL has changed. It was always about money, of course, but it’s become far less about the game and far more about consumerism and social activism. Here’s why I’m drifting away:
League of extraordinary consumerism
The point of NFL marketing appears to be something like, “Why hello there, fellow Regular American Guy™! Tune in Sunday and spend your entire day without ever leaving the couch. Obsess over these finely-tuned athletes while simultaneously transforming yourself into a fat, impotent, pre-diabetic pig who can’t travel across the room without getting winded. And don’t forget to watch the halftime show, sponsored by Bud Light!”
Commercials during NFL games are awful. They typically make men look like buffoons hiding in “man caves,” sitting in recliners before giant plates of something that’s supposed to pass for food, living in abject terror of their oh-so-superior wives. They try to persuade us to buy a million trinkets we don’t need. Even worse, they try to convince us to eat “food” that will slowly kill us with obesity and diabetes, from Papa John’s pizza to Doritos to Snickers bars to Budweiser beer (with your favorite team’s logo right on it). Then they move on to celebrities-of-the-week encouraging us to drink heavily while simultaneously telling us to “be responsible.”
Eat the crap food. It’s 50% off if your team wins.
Drink the crap beer. All the guys in the cool TV bar wearing the expensive jerseys do.
Mila Kunis will want to sleep with you if you drink enough Jim Beam.
Buy the $35 underwear. You be so comfortable you can spin on a stripper pole. (WTF?)
You definitely need a new car or pickup. Yours is three years old and Bob at the end of the bar just got a 2017 model.
You just need a Viagra prescription and your obese, graying, sweatpants-clad wife will magically transform into a slender, feminine barely-middle-aged former lingerie model who is actually capable of giving you a boner.
And don’t forget to decorate your man cave with NFL and Fat Head merchandise!
League of liars and lagging gameplay
“Player safety” and “concussion protocols” are deception. The NFL is well aware that it’s the cumulative effects of many small hits that are fucking up players’ brains, not a couple of big hits. The players are grown men and they are aware of this. If they choose to play anyway, that’s their business. They’re voluntary combatants. But the NFL has erected a smokescreen on this issue to make themselves look like the good guys.
Because of the NFL’s need to conceal the real issue of cumulative small head hits, the organization has gone way overboard at protecting players, or at least giving the appearance of protecting players. It seems like there’s a flag every third play. I am very tired of lawyer-referees halting the game to second-guess men who are playing an extremely fast-moving, highly physical game.
Every year the rules committee tacks on some more rules to enhance the appearance of “player safety.” These rules invariably decrease the physicality of what is supposed to be a physical game. They also make the game difficult to officiate, which is why we see so many penalties in today’s games, and why those penalties are so frequently overturned after an interminable break in play. All of this makes the game less and less fun to watch every season. Games get slower and slower, with fewer and fewer fun defensive plays.
League of hypocritical hectoring
But worse than all that is the NFL’s steady creep toward being the nation’s lecturer-in-chief on social evils. It started with the effort to convince women to watch football by devoting an entire month to “breast cancer awareness,” as if we’re not already inundated with pleas to donate money to some nebulous women who are battling breast cancer. Never mind that fact that the overwhelming majority of NFL fans are men, a very large number of whom will suffer from prostate cancer at some point in their lives. Where are the blue ribbons and towels and shoes?
It gets worse every season. Bob Costas lectures us about gun control at halftime. Virtue-signaling white knight commentators and players hector men about the evils of domestic violence (statistically half of which is committed by women). Most recently, the NFL has tacitly encouraged players to make the “courageous political statement” of kneeling or sitting during the national anthem. Hey, it helped sell some Kaepernick jerseys to members of Black Lives Matter – and without having a clearance sale!
Meanwhile, the NFL wraps itself in false patriotism. Flyovers by military aircraft. Field-size flags shaken by groups of service members. Seats for Soldiers programs. Financial support of the shady Wounded Warrior Project. Salute to Service month, complete with social media videos featuring players who look like they’re being held at knifepoint by ISIS. Maimed war veterans rolled out before games.
And they do all this while permitting their employees to kneel during the Star Spangled Banner. The NFL has reached levels of hypocrisy unknown since the last time one politician accused another of corruption.
This past season I watched my local team, the awful Cardinals, from the neighborhood pub with a dwindling crowd of fans. I drank free club soda instead of beer (but still tipped). I skipped the rest of the NFL games that sports radio tells me I am supposed to care about deeply. I’m not part of any conscious boycott, I just don’t really give a shit anymore. I spent that time hiking and lifting weights and prepping healthy meals. I’m in better shape and I saved a pile of money. I doubt I’ll ever go back to watching much football. I’ve seen behind the curtain now.
I am a deplorable consumer.