Hooked for life
December 10, 2016 7:54 AM   Subscribe

From the outside, the NFL looks like one of the jewels of American capitalism. It remains the most profitable sports enterprise in the world, with $12 billion in revenue in 2015. But a closer look at the trend lines reveals that the NFL’s financial and cultural dominance may be at risk. In response, the NFL has initiated a campaign to secure the next generation of fans that is unprecedented in the history of professional athletics.
Near the end of the panel discussion, one mother asked what she should say to people who refuse to let their kids play football. Chris Golic answered first. She talked about how so much of what happens to children in the world is out of their parents’ control. Then she paused meaningfully and said: “I never wanted my kids to not chase their dreams because I was afraid of something.”

Many of the parents in the stands cheered when they heard that. Roger Goodell, who was also in attendance, nodded along. With one sentence she had reframed the choice facing parents. It was no longer: Is football safe for kids? It was: Are you going to stand in the way of your child achieving his dreams?
posted by cynical pinnacle (69 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
I came to football late, having grown up in basketball country, but I really do enjoy it as a spectator; the strategy elements are clear, but deep, and the pace is perfect fit Sunday afternoons. That said, the NFL's general loathsomeness and concussion issue makes it hard for me to justify watching, and I've mostly stopped. It also makes me very happy to have a daughter, where the question of playing is much less likely to come up.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:05 AM on December 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


Another conversation on similar topics: Simmons vs. Gladwell: The Future of Football
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:05 AM on December 10, 2016 [6 favorites]


"Are you going to stand in the way of your child achieving his dreams?"

Yes, I am, if his dreams have the probable outcome of brain damage. The whole point of being a parent is to protect your child from imitate harm. Full contact football, with a coach who is proud of his reputation of "old school coaching"? No.
posted by Marky at 8:08 AM on December 10, 2016 [78 favorites]


I've gone from being a huge football fan to not being able to even watch a game during the last five years or so. It's not just one thing but an accumulation of things that make me too uncomfortable to ever enjoy a game again. The concussion thing is a big one, but also the whole Sandusky horror show at Penn State, abuse of college ball players 98% of whom will never win the NFL jackpot, the tolerance of obvious sociopaths like Ben Roethlisberger and the blackmail of cash strapped cities to build stadiums for billionaire team owners. The whole thing is just a horribly corrupt and heartless enterprise that I just can't support anymore.
posted by octothorpe at 8:31 AM on December 10, 2016 [100 favorites]


For years--decades, really--I was a deeply passionate NFL fan: spending all day every Sunday (and Monday nights and some Thursdays and some Saturdays and and and and and) during the season immersed in games, stats, news, etc.; owner of so many hats and replica jerseys and t-shirts and team logo pencils and beer mugs and whatever that I genuinely couldn't even begin to count them; member of as many as three or four fantasy leagues at a time; actual Green Bay Packers' shareholder; all that business.

I was genuinely happy when the Packers won, and genuinely despondent when they lost. And of course because every season ends with a loss--or missing the playoffs--for every team but one, I was despondent a lot more than I was happy, despite the Packers' relative success over the last few decades.

But now? I think I've maybe seen a handful of downs in the last three or four years.

It's not that I'm busier now (although I suppose I am). It's that I just soured on it, on the whole thing: the way the league so often treats players who commit acts of sexual assault and domestic violence more leniently than those who dare indulge in the dread killer marijuana; the traumatic brain injury thing, and the sickening attempts to hide it; and, finally, the realization of how thoroughly preposterous it was that I was investing real emotional energy into a game played by millionaires for the financial benefit of billionaires.

Sorry, football. You lost me. And here's the thing: it's not me, it's you.

And I haven't missed you for a second.
posted by dersins at 8:34 AM on December 10, 2016 [44 favorites]


*high-fives octothorpe*
posted by dersins at 8:34 AM on December 10, 2016 [5 favorites]


If your kid has to play football, give him a football. Then teach him to kick it accurately and far.
posted by delfin at 8:44 AM on December 10, 2016 [10 favorites]


It was: Are you going to stand in the way of your child achieving his dreams? sacrificing his life and health to make us a ton of cash?

FTFY*

* Could be either "fixed that for you" or "fuck that ad fuck you;" it's multipurpose!
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:46 AM on December 10, 2016 [5 favorites]


Some people think it's suspicious that white elites should suddenly decide to attack professional football at precisely the moment that African Americans are achieving a dominance in the sport almost equal to that they already hold in basketball.
posted by Modest House at 8:55 AM on December 10, 2016


Some people think

The connection between institutionalized racism / white supremacy (in the critical theory sense, not the, like, KKK sense) and the possible decline of the NFL is definitely worth exploring, but any statement that begins with this combination of words is garbage nonsense.

Quotes or GTFO.
posted by dersins at 9:00 AM on December 10, 2016 [29 favorites]


Some people think Nickelback makes great music.

Let's concentrate on the other people who are reachable.
posted by delfin at 9:03 AM on December 10, 2016 [13 favorites]


Near the end of the panel discussion, one mother asked what she should say to people who refuse to let their kids play football. Chris Golic answered first. She talked about how so much of what happens to children in the world is out of their parents’ control. Then she paused meaningfully and said: “I never wanted my kids to not chase their dreams because I was afraid of something.”

As someone who suffers from intense fear of failure she can go get fucked. The opposite of being afraid to take risks is not blindly doing stupid things. It's looking at things logically and following through on things where the consequences are largely intangible or immaterial.

Football has a well documented link to traumatic brain injury. Stopping your kids from playing a sport that injures them in serious but imperceptible ways is prudent. There are plenty of sports that don't require an investment in such risk, let them play those instead.
posted by Talez at 9:03 AM on December 10, 2016 [17 favorites]


You are all welcome over here in NBA fandom. There's 98% less brain trauma and if you haven't watched since the hero ball era, it's a whole lot more fun now. Come in, the water's fine!

(Now, NCAA exploitation of athletes... That's just about the same sadly.)
posted by selfnoise at 9:15 AM on December 10, 2016 [17 favorites]


“I never wanted my kids to not chase their dreams because I was afraid of something.”

Then again, I doubt any kid dreams of multiple concussions and debilitating brain damage. Kids can certainly chase their dreams, but they accomplish nothing if they do so blindly and uninformed of the reality behind those dreams.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:20 AM on December 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


Never was an NFL fan, albeit many folks I love are, but if it isn't the perfect symbol of structural racism in America I don't know how you get closer while remaining mainstream .
posted by spitbull at 9:21 AM on December 10, 2016 [6 favorites]


You are all welcome over here in NBA fandom. There's 98% less brain trauma and if you haven't watched since the hero ball era, it's a whole lot more fun now.

Also, compare and contrast the NFL's reaction to Colin Kaepernick and other players taking non-conservative political stances to the NBA's.
posted by asterix at 9:30 AM on December 10, 2016 [24 favorites]


if it isn't the perfect symbol of structural racism in America I don't know how you get closer.

I think an argument can be made that big-time college sports--think, say, Alabama football--come very close to being a literal recapitulation of the antebellum plantation system. Whether that's a more apt symbol of structural racism than the NFL, I don't know, but it makes SEC football pretty uncomfortable to watch.
posted by dersins at 9:30 AM on December 10, 2016 [13 favorites]


Some people think it's suspicious that white elites should suddenly decide to attack professional football at precisely the moment that African Americans are achieving a dominance in the sport almost equal to that they already hold in basketball.

Isn't football (and boxing and UFC) exploiting poor people and people of color, grinding them up and spitting them out while dangling the glittering prize of fantastic wealth to lure them in? And is it 'white elites' doing the attacking? It is certainly 'white elites' owning the teams and making the money.
posted by Bee'sWing at 9:45 AM on December 10, 2016 [12 favorites]


Seriously and immediately address the damage this sport does to people, and you will have a fan for life in me and many people I know.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:48 AM on December 10, 2016


I meant to include NCAA football as part of the Football Plantation system.
posted by spitbull at 9:48 AM on December 10, 2016


Probably not happening for close to a decade (4-8 years, nudge nudge) but one good concussion class action lawsuit could seriously reduce that 12 BILLION profit.
posted by sammyo at 9:53 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sports culture in the US has horrible distorting effects on how we understand race, sex, justice, education, health, and the economy of human interaction with corporate ownership among many other things. NFL football is the worst offender in that arena, but far from the only one. I can't in good conscience support the NFL or other professional or college sports at the top level other than the NBA at the moment, and with the NBA my support is as much meant as an encouragement to continue moving in the direction they are rather than a whole hearted acceptance . (I don't know enough about MSL to have thoughts on them currently.)

I am not opposed to sports in general, even football among adults, if the huge economic and cultural forces were not in play, but the scale of the influence of sports on culture is so great its hard to divorce any commercial sport activity form the harmful effects enough to make me fully comfortable either. But as that is true of many other areas of our culture, like Hollywood or the news media, for examples, I can't fault anyone for continuing to maintain some interest in the activities either, save for the worst offenders like the NFL.

As an associated note, this article about ESPN losing millions of viewers also speaks to some of the larger forces at work in the NFL's drive to retain viewership.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:53 AM on December 10, 2016 [8 favorites]


I used to work with former saints defensive line, setting up conventions --moving containers of equipment up and down the convention center, setting up steel rigging, large screens and lights. basically roadie work without the road.

most of these dudes were massive, and massively broken. so many knee and back and ankle braces. a couple of them had to stay on pain meds to work overtime to pull things together. i can't talk too much about their home lives; they were great guys to work with, but it was hard to watch them work.

I'm less than half their size, but all the equipment is engineered so guys (and a good amount of gals) with regular build can handle it--there's no other work but NFL that would seem to require such massive bodies, even though we were loading and unloading trucks with large cases.

Strange to have a job that encourages people to bulk up so much just to break them.

after 30, what do NFL players do? is this studied in occupational health? I hope that most of the players can earn enough to not have to work for the rest of their days, because it was hard to watch these guys suffer through a shift.
posted by eustatic at 9:53 AM on December 10, 2016 [12 favorites]


after 30, what do NFL players do? is this studied in occupational health? I hope that most of the players can earn enough to not have to work for the rest of their days, because it was hard to watch these guys suffer through a shift.

Start with this chart, which illustrates how difficult it is to be a football player who makes it to the high-rent district. This implies that not only are you the rare snowflake who makes it out of high school ball, through college ball, into the NFL, avoids significant injury, is talented enough to become and remain high on a depth chart, and plays long enough to get a nice contract offer, but is also savvy enough to work around the one-sided nature of NFL contracts. (You can sign for as many years as they'll give you, but your team can cut you at any time and owe you only the guaranteed money in your contract.)

The minimum salaries are a bit more relevant to the short-term journeyman player, who (let us not forget) is in and of himself still an elite in his sport as he's made it to the highest level of professional play, however briefly. So, if you've made it to an NFL roster and survived on a roster for four years, you've made at least two million or so before taxes. Which doesn't sound bad but then consider that that player may then well be 20-something years old, functionally retired from his sport in terms of making any meaningful money, carrying around his share of Tau proteins and nagging injuries, without a marketable secondary professional skill as he's spent his last decade or two focused exclusively on football, and wondering what to do next.

Now consider the fortunes of players who don't make it to the NFL at all, or who play two games and get cut and go begging for a job in the league thereafter, or who play two games and tear all the ligaments in a knee and are done.
posted by delfin at 10:11 AM on December 10, 2016 [20 favorites]


Football could probably be made a lot safer just by limiting the number of players a team is allowed on a roster and how many are allowed to suit up for games. Player management and health would suddenly rocket up the priority list of coaches.
posted by PenDevil at 10:30 AM on December 10, 2016 [6 favorites]


A lot of American professional sports fandom has nothing to do with the game happening on the field of play. Sure, the games matter some, but a lot of it is about hanging out with friends, social interaction with strangers, small talk at the office, civic pride, etc.

The thing is, baseball fandom, basketball fandom, hockey fandom... hell, NASCAR fandom are all perfect substitute goods for football fandom. The only thing they aren't a 1-for-1 replacement for is the game itself, which means that game has to be really uniquely compelling to survive in the face of the various scandals the NFL has dealt with. What we're now seeing is that a lot of us who thought we'd always have the NFL as our first or second favorite sport are dialing back our interest and allowing other sports to replace it because it's a good game, but not a uniquely great game.

Casual fans make up a lot of the revenue base for these leagues, and if they have another league they can follow in their city that doesn't have as many of those problems, many of them will. But even the kind of die-hard fans who have walls full of memorabilia, including myself and many of my friends, aren't quitting cold turkey, but are just tuning out a bit more. Maybe going from watching football all Sunday to just tuning in for our hometown team, or maybe instead of watching every game from our hometown team, we just check the scores and watch a handful of games throughout the year as a social thing with friends.

I made a decision last year to end a fantasy football league that my friends and I had played in for over a decade. It was tough, but... none of us miss it. Now I play more fantasy baseball. Friends I never thought would turn away from the NFL are doing precisely that. Some haven't, and some never will, but when you're as big as the NFL is, any sort of stagnation in growth is going to hurt. Seeing this cynical PR blitz is only going to reinforce my belief that they have no intention of cleaning up the game, and counting the days until pitchers and catchers report for MLB spring training.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:40 AM on December 10, 2016 [7 favorites]


I've pretty much lost interest in the NFL over the past year. It is a culmination of several things.

*The reaction by fans to the Colin Kaepernick protest
*The Josh Brown/Ray Rice/etc situations and the league's lack of empathy toward the seriousness of the situation
*The inconsistent officiating
*The oversaturation of horrible matchups on Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights
*The fact that the team I used to support, the New York Jets are consistently awful. It doesn't help that their owner is an yet another evil rich Republican who supported Trump.
*The pink-washing to "help" aka make money off of pink merchandise for Breast Cancer "awareness" every October.
*The forced jingoism to "support the troops" with more merchandise, military themed this time in November
*The hyper-obsession with fantasy football to the point where people care more about winning their illegal gambling pool than the health of a player.
*Concussions. Enough said.

I also have better things to do with my life on a Sunday. There are chores to do, books to read, TV shows to watch and video games to play.

Wake me up until the SuperbOwl. At this point, I consider myself a filthy casual regarding the NFL. I'm more interested in Hockey and *actual* football aka soccer than actively supporting a league that is representative of the excesses and problems that we have in society.
posted by 81818181818181818181 at 10:44 AM on December 10, 2016 [18 favorites]


The Simmons/Gladwell conversation linked above is one of the better things I've read recently about the problems facing the NFL. It contains an excellent series of suggestions -- get rid of the preseason games (everyone hates/ignores them anyway), go to a 17-game schedule, BUT institute a rule that players can only suit up for 15 of the 17 games. That shaves 6 games a year off a player's obligations (4 preseason, 2 regular season), and creates a situational meta-game for fans and sports-talkers to natter about, second-guessing the coaches' decisions. That's a great idea that would both limit player injury potential and spark interest in the game around the game.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:16 AM on December 10, 2016 [5 favorites]


What was the name of the Washington DC team again?
posted by fragmede at 11:38 AM on December 10, 2016 [9 favorites]


For many of the reasons that 818181.. stated and a few others my interest in the NFL has waned. I've been a MN Vikings fan all my life and that's not an easy burden to bear in the first place. I boycotted the entire season last year and have had only tepid interest this year, to the point where I just gave up in my pool.

If they got rid of that pencil-dick Goodell, addressed the concussion issue realistically, and did something with the schedule to protect the players, then I'd probably pour more interest back into the game. But that will never happen. So I will spend my football energy on my alma mater (Hail the Bison!) and spend several months of the year fretting about a baseball team that lost 103 games this year. That last notion probably says it all.
posted by Ber at 12:10 PM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was never much of an NFL fan, although I used to be pretty obsessed with college football for a long time. As others have said, there's a strategic element to football that isn't as explicit in other sports. But that's only interesting up to a point, unless you work in the industry. As a dilettante, you get to a point where you know so much that you don't learn more. And after that, the game becomes less interesting. I used to wake up early on Saturdays to watch GameDay, then go straight through to the West Coast games at 10:30, not to mention the midweek games. By 2012, though, I had mostly lost interest. I really only watch my alma mater (Ohio State) anymore.

But 2012 was also the first football season after I met my now-wife. Although she went to a football school (ND), she'd never been a big fan. Watching games together, she got really into it, even worse than I used to be. Not only does she watch every meaningless midweek MAC game, but she watches every NFL game she can as well. It's funny. She gets so excited about it, and I'm like "yep, couldn't care less".

If I can toot my own horn, I think my way is healthier. Football has a lot of problems, and a lot of them are related to its outsized place in our culture. Let's keep it what it was supposed to be, a fun extracurricular activity.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:21 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


After having my interest eroded by the constant scandals and denials, I've finally stopped watching football regularly because... the product is objectively getting worse. The level of play has decreased a lot, and the officiating is a joke where they don't even disguise what seems to be point shaving. Part of the problem is the ever-tweaked, never revised rulebook, particularly when it comes to defining what is a catch, or the miscalls on pass interference and holding. Instead of tactical analysis in between drives, it's dick pill and truck ads.

Football could probably be made a lot safer just by limiting the number of players a team is allowed on a roster and how many are allowed to suit up for games. Player management and health would suddenly rocket up the priority list of coaches.
Yeah, no. What would happen in that scenario would be a lot of guys taking even more meds to avoid losing a spot in the team because of something that can be postponed until January to be more permanently addressed, or become more willing to risk aggravating an injury during a game.
posted by lmfsilva at 12:48 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Instead of tactical analysis in between drives, it's dick pill and truck ads.

Don't forget the glut of military service shills from the armed forces and the even more militaristic video game spots.
posted by blucevalo at 12:53 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is the National Football League financial status still registered as a "non profit 501 C 6"?
posted by Mesaverdian at 1:16 PM on December 10, 2016


I've never been into football; in fact, of all the sports I've not been into, football is among the least interesting to me.

So here is my experience with football: I agreed to join some friends who are fans while they watched a major game. I thought I would enjoy their company, and learn a little bit about the sport, since they know much more than me. I had a good time.

Later I found out that the famous player who had been a focus of attention throughout the game--and who the announcers were constantly lionizing--had sexually assaulted a woman and then tried to sabotage/destroy her career.

I felt used. I decided not to watch another one of these fucking games.

By the way, when I type this major player's name into Google, auto-complete suggests searches like "net worth" and "stats"; I have to actually type in "sex" to get information about his sexual assaults. There isn't even any information about it on his Wikipedia page. That is, I have to already know about the accusations to learn about them. They've been swept under the rug, and this player is still a hero to many.

(Including to people who have heard the accusations, because of a double-dose of women lie and my celebrity can't be like that.)

Fuck the NFL and fuck sports worship.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:22 PM on December 10, 2016 [16 favorites]


> Friends I never thought would turn away from the NFL are doing precisely that.

Yeah, same here. I quit watching for good around the time of the Ray Rice debacle, but the other night I was at a friend's place (a guy who has been a maniacal Saints fan for as long as I've known him) and he casually mentioned that he'd barely watched any NFL this year. When I asked why he handwaved the question away with something vague about how he just hasn't been that interested and changed the topic,

> “I never wanted my kids to not chase their dreams because I was afraid of something.”

lol "Your kid wants to buy this lottery ticket. There's a one-in-a-million chance he'll win the jackpot, but a realllly good chance he'll win a significantly shorter lifespan and diminished mental and/or physical health. And he might win that even if he does hit the jackpot. But you wouldn't want to stand in the way of his dreams, would you?"
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:38 PM on December 10, 2016 [7 favorites]


I don't really see why the NFL is so totally resistant to the obvious solution to reducing everyone's fears about football - actually finding a way to reduce the brain damage. I really don't think the violence is the draw of the game; I think it's more in the variation and the strategy. You could go to flag football and take the violence out entirely and I think it would still be almost as interesting to watch.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:47 PM on December 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's the violence that turns people off now. When you see a hard hit, especially involving the head, it's almost impossible to not instanrly think "concussion". It's supposed to be fun, not depressing. So people go and watch women's soccer, because it's always fun, and fucking awesome. But I guess that doesn't explain the popularity of the UFC. Well, I tried.

Also my college team (Indiana; I didn't go there, but I was born in Bloomington) recently fired their head coach, despite getting us into a bowl for the first time in ages. It's rumored that he was forcing concussioned players to play. If true, I am super happy to hear that someone put the health of these kids ahead of results.
posted by Brocktoon at 2:56 PM on December 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


So people go and watch women's soccer, because it's always fun, and fucking awesome.

If you're trying to follow a sport that is immune from concussed players, women's soccer ain't it.
posted by Kibbutz at 3:12 PM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


> It's the violence that turns people off now. When you see a hard hit, especially involving the head, it's almost impossible to not instanrly think "concussion". It's supposed to be fun, not depressing

That's exactly my situation. I've been recovering from a brain injury for over a year, and when my head is acting up the most soothing thing (other than taking a nap) is watching TV. Sports is great for that, in general -- it's complicated enough to keep my attention, but also lets me drift off. But I feel guilty when I watch football.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:20 PM on December 10, 2016


I wonder if anyone has characterized concern about head injuries as "political correctness" yet
posted by thelonius at 3:24 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


How did football get so balkanized? There's Australian rules, Gaelic, rugby--all among the most popular sports in the countries they're played. American football could change.
posted by Bee'sWing at 4:06 PM on December 10, 2016


I don't really see why the NFL is so totally resistant to the obvious solution to reducing everyone's fears about football - actually finding a way to reduce the brain damage. I really don't think the violence is the draw of the game

I don't think it's the violence per se that is the draw, I think it's more of the appeal of watching young, powerful men struggle physically for dominance. It's the idea of the tough and dedicated player who loves the game and wants to win so much he's out there on the field, toughing it out for his team. It's a game for 'real men' who can handle the pain, not for 'pussies' who just can't hack it.

Like with racing and boxing, there are people who watch it for the strategy and skill and there are people who watch it to see cars crash and men get beaten. In football's case, the violence has also been baked into the strategy in an approving way. I remember watching football with my family and being deeply uncomfortable when they'd cheer good hits on key players on the opposing side. Like, intentionally fucking up the other team's QB on a sack is a good thing to these guys, it's the goal, now he can't play or he's playing worse cause he's hurting.

I don't think the league gives a shit about the audience that actually wants to watch a well played game, they care about the audience that wants to be delivered a visual spectacle and a narrative that reinforces a sense of toughness and often team loyalty. I think they're looking at where most of the money is coming in from and doubling down on that audience, and to that audience the injuries are all just part of the spectacle. I don't know that they're wrong either. That could work.

One thing that sticks with me a lot is comparing the crowd's actions when a player is hurt on the field to the sport I do follow, baseball.
In a baseball stadium, when a player gets hurt, the air gets sucked in, it gets creepy quite for a minute, the announcers speak quietly and with concern, all play stops and all attention is focused on the player. The opposing team usually looks sick, everyone hates it, if the player can get up and the docs let them back in (baseball is not perfect but is better and seems to care about player injuries.) they get a round of applause and a sigh of relief. If they can walk off under their own power, a louder round of applause and the wait to find out how bad. If the stretchers come out, they still applaud, but quieter, and there is a distinctly worried feel in the air until you find out if they are seriously hurt or not.
In football (I've only really been to HS and college Football games, never pro), when a player gets hurt, oftentimes no one really notices at all until they don't get up for longer than you expect. And yeah, that is because getting knocked down is normal in football and there's a lot more action to be watching, but that's part of the problem. When a player gets hurt, their team huddles around in a show of stoic support, the other team just sorta mills around waiting to play again, or more disgustingly, seems somewhat pleased. The crowd gets quiet for a sec, but then it's all back to yelling and stuff, if the guy gets the stretchers, then they care, but only until he's off the field, and then it's right back to bloodsport.

I watched a 17 year old boy get hit so bad his leg reversed at the knee, was taken off in an ambulance, and 15 minutes later it's like nothing ever happened. The next day, when it came out that it was serious, everyone at school was like "He's tough, he'll be fine.", and the day after that, when they amputated his leg at the knee, the shock these people showed was incredible, as though they couldn't imagine that a football injury could actually be permanent. There was brief consideration of replacing our rubber pellet + astro field (one of two main factors in the injury was the fact that his feet couldn't rotate because the cleats were dug into the sticky plastic.) but was dismissed after one school board meeting because "injuries are a part of the sport and also it'd be expensive. The football players thought it was fine, parents thought it was fine, the coaches and administration thought it was fine, fuck, even the kid who lost a leg chalked it up to bad luck. I don't know if you can fix a sport when everyone involved in such a tragic accident can explain it away as "Just part of the Game". It's a feature, not a bug.
posted by neonrev at 4:10 PM on December 10, 2016 [19 favorites]


I don't think it's the violence per se that is the draw, I think it's more of the appeal of watching young, powerful men struggle physically for dominance.

Back in the nineties when talk about university funding and sports arose I used to argue, in a modest proposal sort of way, that Universities should start funding their own Girls Gone Wild teams as a way to increase revenue, with the gist of the argument being that the way women are treated in porn is a pretty close comp to how men are treated in sports, and also that Universities funding "college girls going wild" squads would have a better chance at recruiting men to go wild on the field since it'd just be another competitive advantage with a shared emphasis on physique.

That sports like football almost require a player to accept serious bodily harm as a precondition of joining should alone give one pause over it being deemed a crucial element of college life, but that where we are. Title nine and the growth of women's sports does provide some balance towards a less media driven more inclusive handling of sports for the moment, but either a rise in popularity of women's sports in media or, more likely, college football players, and other popular athletes, winning the right to get payment for their activities will change that dynamic. It isn't an end to college and pro sports that is needed, just more moderation in their popularity and effect on the culture. Sports are fine, sport/celebrity worship isn't so great.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:40 PM on December 10, 2016


I wonder if anyone has characterized concern about head injuries as "political correctness" yet


You haven't seen this from our future idiot-in-chief?
posted by stargell at 5:29 PM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't really see why the NFL is so totally resistant to the obvious solution to reducing everyone's fears about football - actually finding a way to reduce the brain damage. I really don't think the violence is the draw of the game.

Because there are people out there who think that any rule changes minimizing massive brain-rattling hits ARE UNAMERICAN PUSSIFICATION and hacking away at the American Male Way of Life of Courage and Valor and Muscles and replacing sweat and tears and grunting and sacrifice with softness and femininity and (shudder) protesting war.

And if you think that those people sound like complete tools, you're right. But that seems to be a trend these days.
posted by delfin at 5:31 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't really see why the NFL is so totally resistant to the obvious solution to reducing everyone's fears about football - actually finding a way to reduce the brain damage. I really don't think the violence is the draw of the game; I think it's more in the variation and the strategy. You could go to flag football and take the violence out entirely and I think it would still be almost as interesting to watch.

You would be talking a completely different game then, because for all of the variation and strategy (in the NFL there's nowhere near as much diversity in playing styles as there is in college) one of the biggest parts of football is simply the brute force involved in getting your way. The play along the offensive and defensive lines is the key to the entire game. You win plays by forcing someone out of their position against their will, while they're trying to do the same to you. It's not just the lines, either. Running backs are tasked with protecting the quarterbacks from blitzers, and they do that via forceful blocking. Receivers are tasked with blocking the defensive backs on running plays. All of this is done via forceful physicality, and if you were to take blocking out of the game, you're taking a huge chunk of the strategy out of it. And therein lies the rub. No matter how far you go to make the game safer by better helmet technology, targeting rules, chop block rules, etc., you still can't remove the fact that linemen are having wrestling matches dozens of times each game. These guys take such a pounding and they pretty much never get the ball and they're typically not delivering the "blow-em-up" hits that have people spooked.

I'm not saying that you couldn't ever get flag football to be successful on a professional level. But it would be a completely separate game, not an evolution of modern football. It would have to evolve on its own from the ground up into the type of product that people want to watch. Of course, someone smarter than me may already be in the beginning stages of figuring that out. It wouldn't be a bad thing, since it would be a much more accessible sport (tackle football equipment is expensive, and a successful flag league would have much less injury involved.)

I'm of the belief that football will be much less of a thing on the professional level in 20 years. Participation is down at the lower levels, big time. You see a lot less pickup football than you used to. When I was in school we'd go out after school hours and play tackle football without equipment, and that's much less of a thing now. (Get off my lawn.) Soccer has been catching more and more traction. It's been a slow, slow chug, but it's been getting more and more interest. Boxing used to be the king of sports and now it's for the most part, aside from the rare Mayweather-Pacquiao type fight, irrelevant. So there's precedent for a fall like this. Football won't disappear, but it's going to be smaller than it is now. Soccer is a much less expensive sport - you need cleats, shinguards, a net, and some soccerballs and you can run a city league team. Plus someone who played soccer through high school and college is likely not going to have trouble walking a mile when they're 35.
posted by azpenguin at 5:34 PM on December 10, 2016 [7 favorites]


......hockey fandom... hell, NASCAR fandom are all perfect substitute goods for football fandom

Hockey, sadly, has a serious problem with concussions which they are waltzing around almost as half-heartedly as the NFL.

This is a very good article: Friday Night Lights Out: the case for abolishing high school football:

Russell Davis has been called a "dork," a "pussy," a "gay," and a "nanny state liberal" who's "almost as krazy as Hillary" .... the reason Davis has attracted attention and ire is simple: he wants to eliminate public high school football.
posted by Rumple at 7:25 PM on December 10, 2016 [5 favorites]


My dream when I was a kid was to eat buckets of chocolate every single day.
posted by srboisvert at 7:46 PM on December 10, 2016 [7 favorites]


The biggest thing driving me away from the NFL is that I don't have cable. I can't justify paying a couple of grand per year just to casually watch sports and I don't have the time to watch more seriously.
posted by srboisvert at 7:50 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


This article gets deep into the most troubling aspect for me around football: indoctrination. The epidemic of concussions, CTE, the way players get used up and tossed away; it's hideous and disturbing, and people try to wave it away as "they're adults, they know what they're doing and have made their choices." But this makes explicit the lengths to which the football community will go to indoctrinate kids; the NFL gets them hooked young, the youth leagues and high school culture convinces them this is their path to fame and riches.

It results in kids playing and hurting themselves, sometimes for life, who probably aren't old or sophisticated enough to understand fully the risks they're putting themselves through. It results in the reprehensible conduct by fans at Penn State, who want nothing more than to forget that Sandusky ever existed and to put Joe Paterno back up on his pedestal, to absolutely ignore any culpability of the football culture in multiple child rapes over decades. It results in domestic abusers (Adrian Peterson) and sexual assailants (Ben Roethlisberger) given free pass on their transgressions if they can throw a touchdown pass or truck a safety.

I still have a soft spot for my Wolverines, and I like the strategy, the physical skills, and some of the traditions. I started watching in '08, just in time for those terrible Rich Rodriguez teams, but it helped me get through chemotherapy and recovery from surgery (I still wear Michigan gear mostly as homage to the absolutely excellent medical care the UMHS provides). I want those kids to do well and be successful, but it really bothers me that they've grown up through this indoctrinating culture around football that has rewarded them tremendously for risking their health, and I don't think that many have had the opportunity to really assess with clear eyes the risks versus rewards.

You are all welcome over here in NBA fandom. There's 98% less brain trauma and if you haven't watched since the hero ball era, it's a whole lot more fun now. Come in, the water's fine!

The Donaghy fiasco killed my NBA fandom. I was willing to try it again, but then they had a year-long farewell tour for an alleged rapist and eh I can probably do better things with my time. No major sport is free of this kind of thing, sadly.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:52 PM on December 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


Instead of tactical analysis in between drives, it's dick pill and truck ads.

I almost never watch live TV these days so watching commercials on football games is so weird and jarring for me now.
posted by octothorpe at 5:25 AM on December 11, 2016


......hockey fandom... hell, NASCAR fandom are all perfect substitute goods for football fandom

Hockey, sadly, has a serious problem with concussions which they are waltzing around almost as half-heartedly as the NFL.


Not NASCAR, either, by a long shot. It looks like it's gotten a little better but still:
It is standard NASCAR procedure that if a driver is unable to bring his or her car back to pit road or the garage following an accident, a trip to the infield care center for precautionary evaluation is mandatory.

But there is no protocol in place for drivers to be checked out if they are able to drive their damaged race cars back behind the wall
.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:17 AM on December 11, 2016


My feeling is that the concussion risks for the NHL and NASCAR are vastly under-reported and not taken seriously enough by their leagues, but still less than that of the NFL. I'm basing that on what I remember from previous threads on CTE where scientists have suggested that it's not so much the big hits (though they're not good) but the combined effect of the many smaller hits that NFL players (especially linemen) are involved with on every play.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:36 AM on December 11, 2016


Along with CTE and concussions, I think that the physical limb and back damage that football does to players over time gets too little attention. Professional players have problems with torn ligaments, sprains and stress fractures obviously, but they also have a large team medical infrastructure behind them, and probably a rehab program as well.

That's not true for High School and (I don't think?) College teams, at least most of the time. There'll be a team doctor or some sort of medical professional on staff, but it's a part time, sometimes volunteer position, and it doesn't extend to long-term treatment and rehab of physical injuries. That side of things has to be taken up by the player or their family at their own cost, which means that many players get limited care or no care at all depending on their financial situation.

I don't know if there's data behind this, but I also think that the inexperience and a combination of young-testosterone-based-anger-strength and the general gangliness and incomplete physical development of a 16-18 year old male might lead to more minor injuries to limbs. A pro who has been getting tackled and hitting the ground for years will probably be simply better at avoiding injuries in a tackle than a new player playing other new players, most of whom are at a time in their physical development when body control and control of strength is a little loose.

Pretty much everyone I knew who played HS football for any period of time has at least one lingering injury. A lot of the time it's a repeated injury, a shoulder that never gets its strength back, knees that get sprained year after year until it's just a permanent sore that can't heal fully anymore.

I have an old knee injury from hunting back in High School, an injury closely associated with injuries to football players, a dual tear of a set of knee muscles. It happens a lot in pile-ups, when a player gets forced down without their knees actually being able to support that force. I got mine dropping ten feet down off a combine on knees that were cold enough for the muscles to be too tense to stretch to take the force of the landing, for comparison. I then ran 75 yards, not noticing the pain due to adrenaline, which deeply aggravated the injury. That also happens to football players a lot, ignoring what pain comes through the adrenaline because it doesn't seem serious yet. High School kids are shit at knowing how to avoid injury.

Whenever I go into a new doctor and describe it as a condition (I, like those football players, couldn't afford the surgery to help fix it, and can't really stand all that long without pain.) they instantly assume it's an old football wound and that I am proud of it. The phrase "Old war wound/battle scar" is used quite often, to call back to the discussion of the militarization of Football culture (which I think is a broader discussion including basketball, baseball and hockey to various degrees.).

Anyway, whenever I think about how to make football more safe, all I can remember is evidence that the people who love the game, even at a youth level, see injury and pain as not only acceptable, but enjoyable and a source of pride. Football can and should die, I guess. How can you save a sport whose deepest devotees don't see as broken?
posted by neonrev at 9:28 AM on December 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


Oh, and when I explain that it's a hunting injury and not a football one, the slightly approving look on their face associated with a football injury is replaced with a cluck of the tongue and a shake of the head. If I'd done this to myself over a game, it'd be fine, even honorable to the right people. Doing it any other way is just being a dumb kid.
posted by neonrev at 9:35 AM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I once tried to watch a Super Bowl game.
posted by signal at 10:20 AM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh look, there's a move to allow fans to bring guns to some stadiums.
posted by quarsan at 1:33 PM on December 11, 2016


List of most watched television broadcasts in the United States

(19 of the top 20 are Super Bowls.)
posted by bukvich at 1:51 PM on December 11, 2016


I just have no respect for the culture of football. If it faded away, I think it would be a good thing.
I want gun control, too.

I'm just totally out of step with the rest of the USA.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:04 PM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh look, there's a move to allow fans to bring guns to some stadiums.

He's to the 40... the 30... the 20... he could go all the *BLAM*
posted by delfin at 7:55 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Then she paused meaningfully and said: “I never wanted my kids to not chase their dreams because I was afraid of something.”

I agree wholeheartedly, Ms. Golic. Why, just yesterday, my three-year-old reached for the red-hot cast iron pan on top of the stove, where we were cooking breakfast. A lesser parent might have stopped her, citing "horrible crippling injuries" and "the fact that she had no idea what she was about to do to herself in pursuit of something unattainable" but I know a dogwhistle when I hear one. Those busybodies just want me to stop her from achieving her dream, of eating a piece of bacon before everybody else.
posted by Mayor West at 8:29 AM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Instead of tactical analysis in between drives, it's dick pill and truck ads.

I would actually like to learn more about the game of football when it's on, because from what I understand, it actually involves a lot of sophisticated strategy. (Maybe that's not true any more?) But the player/coach interviews and press conferences are invariably like, "We have to play well and try not to make mistakes, the other team is good, we have a lot of good players too, we need to focus on our offense and defense and score more points and not let them score as many points." Duh, really? And I get that players aren't professional communicators and probably aren't really up to giving a full analysis mid-game when they're trying to focus on actually playing, but those interviews are just so, so pointless.

It's just as well because by the time I get through the Carrie Underwood song* and U.S. Military Sponsored Giant Flag Unfurling Ceremony and then have my attention diverted by three minutes of commercials for every five minutes of gameplay, I'm far too overstimulated to be able to figure out what's going on in the game. It all seems so overproduced and commercialized that it feels more like pro wrestling than a real sport, except of course that the injuries are all too real.

* I learned yesterday the song wasn't even written for the NFL, it's a duet she did with Miranda Lambert but with football lyrics lazily shoehorned in in place of the original lyrics. Which in hindsight explains how banal and awkward the lyrics are. Like, "Sunday night about to happen" makes no sense until you learn the original lyric is "Somethin' bad about to happen." Unfortunately, they could have just kept that line in.
posted by mama casserole at 8:35 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I would actually like to learn more about the game of football when it's on

Other thing that irritated me a lot was on the pre-game shows where what should be segments with some tactical analysis were replaced by Fantasy Football updates - suddenly, an injury report on a running back becomes a "fantasy update" where if, dunno, Bell is "probable" it might be best to start Howard who faces a defense that gives a lot of soft yards in the running game and doesn't have a QB.
The interviews aren't the place to begin with that because they're not going to open the book. But most replays are just slow-motion porn, with incredibly smooth footage of a receiver making a catch or a running back breaking two tackles. These days, very rarely I see someone pick up the telestrator and say "the cornerbacks were here and here, the linebacker has covered the inside, but the quarterback missed the free safety covering the seam who made a great read on the outside to make the interception". It's more likely to hear "IT WAS BAD PASS, TROY" like some videogame. Ocasionally they get into some detail, but instead of taking advantage of a dead ball to look at a previous play, they have to cram the analysis in just 20 seconds between plays or so because they must cut to more ads.

Football is an incredibly complex game that is also simple to explain at a fan level while the game is going on, particularly stuff like matchups, routes, blocking, cover and M2M protection schemes and so on. The modern broadcasting style does not favour that, but goes with the grossest simplifications possible.
posted by lmfsilva at 9:46 AM on December 12, 2016


The modern broadcasting style does not favour that, but goes with the grossest simplifications possible.

The traditional way to handle this with baseball is to listen to the radio broadcast while watching the game (whether on TV or at the ballpark), but apparently the NFL doesn't allow radio broadcasts of local teams' games.
posted by asperity at 9:58 AM on December 12, 2016


One thing I've wondered about is how many head injuries happen in practise vs. gameplay. The average NFL game has an average of 11 minutes of action, which isn't a lot of time to get injured in. But they also spend 40+ hours a week practising. Most of that is fitness and formation, and they take care not to do wildly dangerous hits against teammates, but, still, practise must add up in terms of brain impacts.
posted by clawsoon at 10:16 AM on December 12, 2016


To follow up on what azpenguin says, I predict that we will see a split in football as it's played in the US (and possibly Canada--are there any studies to see the effects of injuries on Canadian football players?). You'll have one side continuing to emphasize the gladiator-like spectacle of the battles, with increasingly violent play becoming normalized. The other side will carry out an increasing level of reforms that have been proposed over the years, such as removing helmets, decreasing the padding, limiting play for players, and so on. I predict this will start at either the high school level or the small college (Division III or NAIA) level, as these are the bodies who would most be susceptible to lawsuits that threaten to shut down their football programs.
posted by stannate at 11:16 AM on December 12, 2016


I keep going back to this comment I wrote here 2 years ago, about the Penn State debacle.

There's just too much fucked up about football, college or pro, to get behind it at all. It's a cancer on higher education, and a leech on franchise cities. Sure, some schools -- like my alma mater, the aforementioned Alabama -- actually reap huge benefits from onfield success, but it's only the very top tier of school that does.

And, at Alabama, it's literally true that enrollment and admission standards are up in the Saban era, owing to the prestige the winning program affords the more humdrum mission of, you know, educating people. But this is probably a net negative for higher education as a whole, because Southeastern Hambone University somewhere looks at Alabama or Michigan or even Texas and thinks "hey, we could do that!", and spends stupid money trying to compete at the expense of other pursuits.

It's a blight.
posted by uberchet at 12:39 PM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Three disjointed thoughts (no pun intended?):

I played field hockey on astroturf in high school and screwed up both my knees and kinda wish someone had stood between me and my dreams, at least after the first knee went.

Aaron Thier's The Ghost Apple is a great very dark comedy which in part addresses the antebellum plantation nature of football that dersins alluded to up above.

For many years I was not a football fan but eventually I got into it and I feel very guilty about it. I don't even watch movies with violence because I can't stand it, yet I watch real people get seriously injured on many a Sunday, and enjoy it as escapism from my life (and my knees). I do love the personalities involved, and the pleasure of rooting for the underdog, and the moments of pure joy that these big, hulking gentlemen occasionally let fly on network television; but I would certainly be a better person, and so would the rest of the country, if we gave up football in its current form.
posted by ferret branca at 2:54 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


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