The Silent Opinion: The Case Against Football

When it comes to the NFL and the sport of football, ignorance is bliss.
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(Image courtesy of Task and Purpose)

Everyone loves football, right? Check the Nielsen ratings, highlights of Sports Center, or even your local news and you will quickly find out – everyone loves football.

The NFL brand, or as Commissioner Roger Goodell likes to say, The Shield has reached an all-time high in popularity. Upon further examination, not all of the attention has been positive; indeed the NFL has withstood a number of controversies in recent years, which will be highlighted later in this article. Despite the black marks that have been smeared across the league, it has proven the old adage that all publicity is good publicity as fans and media attention continue to swarm the sport like bees to honey.

As the sport heads to its biggest night of the year, the Super Bowl, numerous articles will be written about the game’s key players, the teams, and the popularity of the league in general. This is not one of them. Rather, let’s for a moment consider how football, led by the NFL, is inherently flawed.

At its heart, the NFL is a corrupt organization

Where to begin with this one? Under the Roger Goodell regime, there have been an incredible number of controversies and poor judgments. If the NFL was a publicly traded company on the stock exchange, the board would have had no choice but to replace him by now.

In making this argument, I’m naturally drawn to the low hanging fruit of the debate. I could write about how poorly Goodell handled the Ray Rice situation, bringing unnecessary attention to Ray and his wife Janay, while also effectively ruining his career. If there was genuine concern for the systemic issue of domestic violence throughout the league, Greg Hardy and countless other players would have been disciplined far more harshly.

If necessary, I could debate for hours over the ridiculousness of the Deflategate scandal, in which it seems pretty clear to me that Goodell purposely brought his fight against Quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots not because of any meaningful rule was broken, but rather just to prove once again that all publicity is good publicity.

But I’d rather not dwell on these topics. They are too obvious marks against the NFL’s integrity. Let’s dig deeper, shall we? Instead, let’s discuss the game of football itself. To the uneducated observer, football is an incredibly simple game. That is, until the rule book is introduced. For example, does anyone, even after all these recent controversies, know what a catch is? The NFL defines it in a three-step, lengthy process that can be found here.

Make sense? Yeah, I didn’t think so. What immediately jumps out at me is the language. When signing the contract on a lease or a new job offer, have you ever taken the time to actually read the entire document? I’m going to guess probably not. And the reason is because it is so damn convoluted. If the NFL wanted this rule simple, they would write it like this:

1) The player catches the ball if it is in their arms when they are tackled.

The reason the league refuses to define the act of catching a ball in an understandable manner, is that they are inherently drawn to controversy. It is not difficult to make this rule straightforward, and easily interpreted. The NFL just does not want to.

I could write a college thesis listing similar offenses. Let me leave you with one more: does anyone know what Pass Interference (PI) is? I surely do not, and I bet you don’t either. The fact is that PI could probably be called on every single play. I’m convinced the referees just throw the flag whenever they are near the sideline of the offended team. After all, who wants 50 or so huge men screaming at you?

When I mention this casually to friends, I’m often met with the rebuttal, “players know the risks, and they are paid a lot of money, so I don’t really see the problem.” In my opinion, this viewpoint is incredibly disheartening.

Football is inherently dangerous, and no one seems to care

Recently, I watched the critically acclaimed documentary League of Denial. The documentary outlines how prevalent concussions are in football, and how these concussions have been linked to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (better known as CTE). For those new to CTE, according to the Boston University CTE Center, it “…is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma…” In the documentary, Dr. Ann McKee highlights the significance of her findings related to CTE, commenting that the vast majority of brains she has studied from former NFL players showed signs of CTE. Furthermore, while concussions are the most significant cause of this disease, CTE also develops from repetitive brain trauma. McKee notes that players are often subject to many “mini-concussions” throughout the course of a game that will often go undiagnosed.

When I mention this casually to friends, I’m often met with the rebuttal, “players know the risks, and they are paid a lot of money, so I don’t really see the problem.” In my opinion, this viewpoint is incredibly disheartening. Most NFL players do not get rich playing football. In fact, the average NFL career is a mere 3.3 years. For every Brady and Manning, there are dozens of other players that toil for a few seasons, only to be left in the dust as the NFL money machine churns on.

More significantly, this type of response seems quite inhumane. Sure, NFL players are aware of the risks, but do they really internalize them? A Behavioral Economist will tell you that all people value their current self, over their future self. Ever procrastinate writing an essay in college, or submitting a report at work? Ever wonder why you took so long to get started on the assignment? Well, it is because as humans, we are far more likely to value our present happiness over future happiness. The same could be said of NFL players. Of course they know the risks, just like you knew the risks of procrastination. That doesn’t mean both parties won’t regret their decision once the future becomes the present.

Unlike most sports, football lacks complexity

Flip on an NBA game and watch Steph Curry dribble behind the back, gain separation from his defender, and swish a three from 30 feet. Turn on baseball, and you might be lucky enough to see Bryce Harper line a 95 mph fastball into the gap, and then dive head first into second base. Watch an NFL game, and uh… watch players catch a ball and run around. Football, unlike other sports, is incredibly weighted towards athleticism and strength. Admittedly, yes, you need the basic ability to catch a ball and run with it – however, the intricacies that must be mastered in other sports to be successful – are no where to be found in football. Ultimately, isn’t that kind of boring? Run, pass, run, pass, run some more, pass some more…its monotonous. Coaches breaking down game film is certainly quite detailed. But, ask yourself this: when was breaking down game tape fun for the casual fan?

At the end of the day, I just don’t get it. The NFL has repeatedly flaunted its power, and ruptured its relationship with its fans. Football as a sport is an incredibly violent and dangerous game. Yet, our society continues every Sunday to stop their lives, sit down in front of the TV, and let the NFL be their only source of entertainment. And that does not even count the endless conversations and debate each week between games.

I’ll say it; I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed in our citizens, in our culture. The sport of football can have a place in our lives. Just don’t let it dominate the national conversation. We are too smart to be manipulated by a clearly corrupted system. Well, at least I thought we were.

About Ryan McCormick

Ryan is an avid sports fan, and is willing to play or watch just about any sport ever created. He grew up playing baseball which helps explain his particular enjoyment of the sport, and love of the Yankees. As an Economics and English major in college, he developed a strong interest in writing, especially creative pieces. Ryan currently lives and works in New York City.

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