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My Football Boycott

Monday, 17 September 2012

“It appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds.” - Doc Holliday

I’m not exactly sure when the moment came when the thought of supporting football with my enthusiasm and energy began to nauseate me.

The seed of bitterness was planted long ago, growing up in a culture where the most celebrated and adored and popular boys were those capable of the most amazing football feats.

Fairly or un- (but mostly fairly), movies have long shown the best football players to be assholes and bullies. They rule the high school land like infantile royalty. The adults most capable of addressing the problem sit back and permit it, either for fear of losing their game-winning talent or from a cluelessness of teenage social dynamics.

But this has been the world of football since I was a wee young’un, and never once did it singularly destroy my love of the sport.

In the last year, the levees have broken and flooded the field, and I’m left wondering why we as a culture aren’t looking for higher ground.

In October 2011, Taylor Branch wrote his game-changing article for The Atlantic. What had previously seemed untouchably powerful had been dealt a serious blow, and many of the accusations continue to feel valid. The NCAA is a joke focused more on money and protecting school power than looking out for the rights or needs of “student-athletes.”

At the same time, the word “concussion” has become a sort of Stage One cancer in football. The New York Times even has a running “Head Injuries in Football” mashup of articles and research.

“Penn State.” Aren’t those two words more than enough to make anyone ponder the priorities of our culture?

Lastly, it got personal. UNC’s coach was fired, and the team and school continue to earn scrutiny. Here’s the Scandal timeline. More than one writer has written of an “erosion of academic values at UNC.” I always loved and enjoyed cheering on the Tar Heels, but I also sat smugly back, knowing we were playing the game fairly and as an elite public university. Except maybe we weren’t.

I’m three weeks into my attempted football boycott, fully aware of how much America’s pasttime is truly like a drug.

Exceptions keep having to be made, as well. Exceptions that reveal hypocrisy and inconsistency. First, I still watch high school football. No logical argument excuses this exception. Second, lest you enter a solitary confinement cell, shutting out all visual evidence of the sport is all but impossible. Bars, restaurants, a friend’s house, all are virtually guaranteed to have a pigskin on the screen, and no longer just Saturday and Sunday. The only days of the week mostly free from football are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and that’s it. Third, I still watch SportsCenter. 'Nuff said.

So, it’s a deeply symbolic, highly-flawed boycott, and at the end of the season, it will have accomplished less than the referee’s strike. Yet my boycott has concluded its third week, and it still feels necessary.

My football boycott is not disconnected from my attitude towards national politics. I might feel powerless and insignificant in either case. The issues are beyond my vote, beyond my ability to create or support Super PACs, beyond my ability to influence in any way, but I cannot afford to give up my thread of hope that I can change some teensy little thing, either in me or out there in the world.

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