Should I Stop Watching the NFL?


The final few minutes of the Bengals-Steelers wildcard game left me with a sunken stomach. As the boiling aggression turned to malicious tackles resulting in unnecessary concussions, it was difficult not to acknowledge that football is an avenue that trades humanity for entertainment. Disgust in the game and dismay for the players naturally ensued. It’s one thing to hear about the National Football League’s abysmal record in reporting the mental effects of their franchise and how repeated hits to the head will almost certainly result in some sort of serious brain damage but another to put bodies and names to the numbers, as Brown and Bernard went limp on illegal and “unfortunate” hits during the game.

My stricken conscience no longer allows me to watch the NFL without a mental barrage of disappointed looks from the shoulder angel within. If the NFL is truly an institute where violence and irreversible brain damage are intrinsic, then I ought not to continue supporting it through watching its televised broadcasts, encouraging others to watch it by using it as a device to build social bonds or purchase NFL products.

But perhaps I’ve been too hasty. After all, not that many people are being mentally damaged and a whole nation is being entertained! If you’re aware of the cerebral trauma that seems inseparable from the game, then you shouldn’t be entertained by the NFL (in good conscience) in the first place. That is to say, if you’re aware that your entertainment choice is violent in a way that causes substantial and irreversible damage to real people, you should at least find another source of entertainment.

But you could say that choosing violent entertainment that results in substantial and irreversible damage to its participants is acceptable since they understand the risks involved, and even if they don’t, their reward is so immense that they don’t need to understand the risks, or at least the guilt is somewhat alleviated if they don’t. The players agree to essentially commit to serious brain damage at a steep paycheck, and we happen to get a Sunday afternoon ritual out of it. Every time we tune in to a NFL game or buy NFL products, we have a hand in rewarding and thus incentivizing agreement to the contract. It’s an ethical equivalent to paying your friend to lick the stop sign pole in the dead freeze of winter. It’s an inhumanely tinged contract we support every time we watch the games, no matter the amount of reward we give the players.

What if we support the NFL because we want to see the talents of the football players flourish? Is a talent that, in order to necessarily be realized at its maxim, necessarily causes substantial and irreversible brain damage worth supporting? I think it’s hard to argue yes to that, at least ethically speaking. And let’s be honest: that’s probably not the reason most people support the NFL; for the most part, I’d gamble that most people simply watch it as a form of raw entertainment and a device for social bonding.

What about those that don’t really support the NFL; they just support their local team in order to bolster your local economy? I support the Packers, because if they win more often, maybe even winning the right to a playoff game in my hometown, my local economy will bloom. Even this, though, is selfish because the reward of an economic bloom should go towards the best team for being the best team, not because they just happen to be the team in closest proximity to your community.

Thankfully, I’m not an avid football fan, so the habit won’t be too strenuous to kick, but I can imagine if I were one. I would find it difficult to think that this franchise in my life that’s been such a reliable source of entertainment might be an inhumane entity, and, second, to cut the habit out when most of, if not all of, my friends and family use football to spend time together and grow closer to one another. That being said, maybe I’ve failed to recognize a redeeming aspect of the NFL, or my realizations are unsound, and it’s really OK to watch the NFL, but, as it stands now, I think I’m going to have to pass on any Super Bowl parties, and that’s going to be a hard pill to swallow.


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