Football is built on exploitation and violence on an industrial scale, and the fact that it remains so popular in America is a national disgrace.
I just read a story about Adrian Peterson, the National Football League player who recently apologized for beating the hell out of his 4-year-old son. Even though I don’t watch football of any kind, I was already aware of this latest “scandal,” just one in a never-ending series that proves the sport itself harms society as a whole. Football is built on exploitation and violence on an industrial scale, and the fact that it remains so popular in America is a national disgrace.
I’m being deliberately harsh in my analysis because the lessons we teach through football mean something, and the groups who love and defend football only seem to understand bluntness and cruelty.
Even though I’m not a sports fan, I have little against baseball, soccer, or other pastimes that bring people pleasure or promote fitness, but I’ve never liked football. Sure, I’ve been to games, cheered for “my team” and enjoyed a Super Bowl party as a young adult. I tried, for the love of god, I really did. I wanted to be like so many “regular” American men, but as I grew into adulthood, my discomfort with the sport only grew more profound.
For me it started in high school. In small town America, being a football player is treated as the highest level of success no matter what happens to you later in life. That you played high school football is everything there is to say about one’s character. I never played, and the young men who did were always the most pompous or the meanest. There were exceptions, of course, but football itself seemed to bring out the ugliest side of some people.
When young men become too old to play, they often live vicariously through professional and college sports and then, later, through their children. Along the way, people continue to get hurt. There is a nonstop parade of broken and brain damaged players, abused children, beaten spouses, and the many other causal victims too diverse and numerous to even catalog.
Adrian Peterson is just the latest player caught up in the violence. There are a lot of factors in his case, but the idea of a massive, warrior-man beating a 4-year-old is almost too much to bear. One can’t help but consider how Peterson’s daily life of perpetuating violence on others warped his sense of what a little boy’s bottom could take.
From the child rape victims of Jerry Sandusky to the abuse “weak” players endure every weekend, children are football’s least protected victims. Recent research is clear about the lifelong damage done to children who play only through middle or high school. One concussion is enough to create serious health problems, never mind the bones, joints, and other physical injuries that can follow a child for life.
I almost let my oldest son play football after he cajoled me for weeks. I was younger then and perhaps more malleable. When he went to sign up, he was too big for the little kid program and would have had to play with 15-year-olds. He was 12. So I said “no,” just plain old “no.”
Now, if my younger children express an interest, I’ll sign them up for something else or buy them off with toys or cash bribes. I don’t care. I’ll do anything to keep them off the field, until they grow too old to start. I can be a devious old fuck, and you can call me a bad father all you want, but I have no desire to sacrifice my children to the gridiron gods. I’ve even encouraged four of my children to practice martial arts and two of them are still in the sport. I’m not against masculinity or being physical, but football creates nothing but pain.
Case in point, an Ohio State football player, Kosta Karageorge, killed himself last week. His body was discovered on Sunday. According to his mother, he was “embarrassed” over concussions he sustained while playing football. I found it sickening that the news coverage of the death also included the team’s “good record” this year, as if being good at football meant anything in the context of the death of this young man. He was only 22 and already had serious medical problems because of the game. Imagine the injuries sustained by lifelong players.
The apex of football is of course the NFL. Any casual, analysis of this “league” shows it for the coliseum of gladiatorial violence that it is. We have a bunch of massive men kicking the shit out of each other every weekend for our twisted pleasure. We accept their often untimely deaths and daily suffering as the price they choose to be rich and famous. They murder themselves slowly for our amusement and we compensate them for it. How is this still a thing?
The violence on the field is only exceeded by the victims off the field. Who can forget Ray Rice’s elevator video? He knocked out his fiancé with a solid punch to the face and took a two-game suspension for it. Only after the entire video was released was he “fired” and only then because there was an actual video of the barbarity. Incidents of violence plague the sport from child abuse to spousal abuse to dog fighting. The problems with college football would take an entire essay, maybe even a book, and nothing about the sport is a net positive for society.
You might argue that if I don’t like football, I should just not watch it. If only it were that simple. Football is on every television in every restaurant and covered ad nauseum in every newspaper. Quite often, like this past year, it dominates the news headlines too. I can’t read a newspaper without a rundown of the victims, calamities, and latest scandals of the NFL. I avoid sports news, yet I still know these people as if they lived next to me. You can’t buy a stick of gum without someone asking, “Did you see the game?”
When people talk up the sport to me, I often respond with a kind but firm: “I don’t watch football.”
I know enough about football and America to know that this latest round of NFL “controversy” will pass. There is too much money to be made. So we’ll forget the elevator video or the bruised buttocks or the latest personal catastrophe even as we watch it unfold in real time. We’ll cheer, drink beer, and eat nachos as we watch grown men destroy their bodies and lives through violence, and we won’t ever consider the consequences. People will ignore the problems and societal cost so that we can just get back to watching some goddamn football.
But it won’t be my kids on the field.
Edwin Lyngar is a writer and author living in Reno, Nevada. He graduated from Antioch University in 2010 with his MFA in creative writing and also holds an MA in Writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Bellingham Review and Ontoligica. He blogs about parenting, family life, and writing at www.edwinlyngar.com and is in the process of finding a home for his first book, a memoir titled Guy Parts.