Violence is the answer: I’m over football.

February 2, 2016


I give up. I was ready to give up on American football before Concussion, the recent Will Smith movie that focuses on the NFL hiding the issue of the staggering number of serious head injuries among players. I was ready to give up before the endless stories of boys in high school who have died while playing football. I was ready to give up before the continuous stream of stories about college and professional football players beating the women in their lives. I was even ready to give up before Justin Timberlake ripped Janet Jackson’s bra off at Superbowl 38 and the controversy was more about almost seeing her nipple than it was about the implied sexual aggression against women. You can have it, but I’m giving up.

I was ready in 1978, the day I sat on the bus after a B-team football game with the rest of the members of my team at Redan High School. We had lost the game and I took it in stride. But I questioned another player who was in tears. He said, “If you don’t care about this team to cry when we lose then you don’t belong on the team.” And then he beat me up. I quit the next day and joined the punk rocker team.

It might surprise some folks that I was a huge football fan as a kid. I was obsessed with the Miami Dolphins in the early 1970’s and can still name the starting offensive team (including kicker Garo Yepremiam). In 4th grade I wrote a letter to coach Don Shula asking him why the Dolphins never played my hometown Atlanta Falcons. After that the O.J. Simpson poster was on the wall right next to Farrah. There was nothing more blissful than a Sunday watching the NFL highlight reel and all the great tackles shown in slow motion.


In my podunk Georgia county (Dekalb in the 1970s), there were no middle schools. So 8th grade was the first year of high school. You want to feel small? And I skipped 5th grade so I was essentially a 7th grade kid in high school. The only way for a 12-year-old boy (or any boy) to stake his claim for Southern masculinity was to join the football team. No cuts. You show up to practice in the sweltering Georgia sun and you are on the team. You might be tenth string but you get to wear the jacket and be in the team picture and sit in the front at pep rallies. Oh, and you get cheerleaders cheering for you. And the only people that get to beat you up are your teammates.

So I rode the bench as an outside linebacker (#53) for three years. I was skinny but fast so when I did get to play I channeled those NFL films and did recover a fumble in one big game against Cross Keys High School. At most of the games me and the other sideline jockeys would smack our helmets against the bleachers to make it look like we got in some good hits. When I left in 10th grade I was happy to let the jocks have their game and get out without a serious injury. (The first year I broke my tailbone. The second year I broke my thumb. The third year I ripped a muscle in my back and got to sit in the hottub during afternoon practices.)

But it’s hard not to be a casual football fan with all the billions spent on hyping college and pro football. Even last year I wondered if feminism and Super Bowls could exist side-by-side. Football is the only major sport where there is not some reasonable equivalent for females. (And don’t you dare say, “Lingerie Bowl.”) At least Major League Baseball has women’s softball to narrow the gap. If my daughter wants to become a part of the NFL, her best option is to become the wife of a player and risk abuse that comes from a guy who is being exploited and has been hit in the head too many times. Or she can be a cheerleader, cheering on the guys and getting paid minimum wage. But who cheers for the cheerleader? Even management in the NFL is an old boys club. What’s a female football lover to do?


The abuse of women by players (and fans) is an old sad story. The new wrinkle to that story is the growing understanding of the cumulative effect of countless head blows that players get as part of their job description. And this starts when they are unpaid players in school. Yet people are still making millions off these young men killing themselves for our entertainment. A few will make it to retirement with a nest egg but more are just chewed up by the machine. There is even a Wikipedia page for NFL players who died while still playing and you have to stop wondering when you see all the suicides. But go team!

There is, of course, a racial and class element to this as poor boys from inner cities and rural communities are told their one way to the American Dream is through professional sports, especially the hyper-masculine world of football. They can have everything they see dangled in front of them on ESPN, including super-model wives. All they have to do is sell their soul (or brains, ACLs, and spines) to the game and hope they are one of the few that has a post-career life worth living.


This issue is finally getting some attention. The NFL reports that this season there were 317 reported concussions of NFL players. (Who knows how many are unreported?) And that number may be down because of better helmets for teams that can afford the latest, most expensive protective gear. I doubt the inner city high school team is in line for the new top-of-the-line Xenith helmets any time soon. And there is a new effort to decouple the violence on the grid iron from the violence in the home front that is encouraging. You just wonder if the neurology of football can counter a few well-meaning PSAs. But I have to say I have a big ol’ man-crush on former LA Ram Terry Crews and his efforts to bring these issues to the audience that needs to hear it the most. There are feminist football players, y’all.

In a society that claims to preach, “Violence is not the answer,” why do we still obsess over the macho violence of football? In football, violence IS the answer, and the harder the better. I’m not immune to this. As a kid in Georgia I would go to stock car races and PRAY to see a big crash. The game itself can be fascinating and artful and (in those slow-motion NFL films) can look more like ballet, than war. But there is a growing body count that is part of the cost. And that includes battered women who are beaten by brain-damaged players and former players.

I’m just not sure it’s worth all the hype. Sure it’s fun to meet friends to watch a big college bowl together. Maybe you even went to that school 100 years ago. And I know some people want to watch the Super Bowl “for the commercials,” but your are going to see every single one of those commercials a thousand times over the next three months (including whatever sexist crap GoDaddy and Carl’s Jr will throw at us). There certainly is a thrill to watching a live sporting event as it happens, and not TIVO’d (or like with the last Olympics, on a 3-day tape delay). To share in a global experience can be unifying and exhilarating. (Just witness my freak out for the World Cup every four years.) It crosses political, racial, class and even gender lines. I bet even Bernie Sanders has a pick for the big game. (I can hear him say, “I’m quite impressed the the Carolina Panthers ability to reduce the inequity between the salaries for its support staff and its management.”)


I won’t hold it against you if you are all in for the sport and Sunday’s Super Bowl. I’m out. I’ve devoted enough time watching reruns of players getting folded, spindled and mutilated and just thinking, “That’s awesome!” This year, out of respect for the dozen boys who died playing high school football in 2015, like 17-year-olds Luke Schemm and Andre Smith, I’m going to spend Sunday hanging out with my daughter. Maybe we’ll go to the duckpond or go shopping. And I’m trying to teach her to play catch so she can play softball someday.

Edit: I’m supposed to watch this Frontline story: League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.

11 thoughts on “Violence is the answer: I’m over football.

  1. i find football as well as other contact sports boring as hell. and the damage they do to our young people is deplorable. while baseball isn’t suppose to be a contact sport, my son in in sixties is having problems with a knee. it was hurt sliding into first base with he was 15. at least we aren’t throwing Christians to lions anymore, we are throwing our young men and women into the arena big time. too much money involved in professional sports so it will never be stopped. sadly to say many people will continue to be maimed playing them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Women are getting more involved in in professional football. At the beginning of the season, there was a women who was named as the first NFL female referee. Even though it’s not as big as the NFL (give it time and it might be), there is a professional women’s football league. As a matter of fact, there’s a team in Portland (Portland Shockwave).

    Growing up, the boys played sports. It doesn’t matter if it’s football, baseball, basketball, soccer, or whatever else. When I played football and basketball, it wasn’t about trying to show off your masculinity or to be the popular kid in school. I played sports because 1) I enjoyed it, and 2) it also teaches team cohesion. Over time, I feel athletes have lost sight of that. In the mist of Super Bowl Sunday right around the corner, I enjoyed this read.


  3. Right with you Randy! It was like that back in our days. BUT, I am not a football fanatic, but I can relate to wanting to be the best in something you love to do. I think you may be forgetting or do not remember the rush of being a part of a team striving to a common goal. All team sports athletes start with this feeling and chase it there whole ” career” or lives….. even those pros still have it inside.

    I will be skiing super bowl sunday, as I do every year!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I watch football sometimes but not as much as I used to-did watch the Superbowl yesterday & we’ll see if that was PW Manning’s last game. NFL players, MMA fighters, etc. understand risks. I like college football more. Football players can be nice people & it’s wrong to generalise individuals who commit domestic violence. This gets to the 1995 OJ Simpson murder trial. Yes, the evidence especially DNA was enough to have convicted O.J. Simpson beyond a reasonable doubt.

    There are smart people who believe O.J. Simpson is innocent. The late R.J. Wagner was an engineer who saw the 1995 double murder trial and he did not believe OJ Simpson did it but had visited the crime scene 15 to 20 minutes after the double murder happened. The late R.J. Wagner believes the murder was done by underworld and that it took multiple killers. If Mr. Wagner’s theory is right, then it would explain DNA (after the fact visit) and the coroner testified that he could not rule out the possiblity of multiple killers. While people condemn 1995 jury for not deliberating by acquitting him with under 4 hours deliberation after hearing months of testimony, there wasn’t much to deliberate because testimony repeated. If many people tell you same thing, then there isn’t much to consider. Jury heard many witnesses saying same thing over months, that it’s no surprise they deliberated for under 4 hours.

    I didn’t find jealous ex husband theory credible because if anything, my view OJ Simpson had lost interest in his ex-wife, but only he knows. Possible that Waiter Ron Lyle Goldman was the intended victim with Nicole losing her life trying to stop murder as only the killer(s) know why it happened and Ron Goldman had most of stab wounds. We have heard many times that it was a jealous ex husband who killed her with Ron L. Goldman being @ wrong place, but possible why it happened could be different.

    Goldman family behavior for a long time been of those interested in money as they got rich while Denise Brown (Nicole Brown’s sister) to my knowledge isn’t profiting from her sister’s murder. The conduct of both Kimberly Erin Goldman & Fred P. Goldman seems to be about exploiting Ron for money. Kimberly has reacted to accusations that her murdered brother Ron L. Goldman was a drug dealer by denying this. Was Ron Goldman a drug dealer, such as did he have money problems where he sold them or got involved with them ? Restaurant where Ron waited was run by Mob. You can make accusations about a man after he is dead. You also don’t always know a secrets a person has & if the drug dealer allegation is true, then he likely kept that a secret from his friends & family.

    Marcia Rachel Clark, Christopher A. Darden, and others involved in the case both prosecution, defense and the detectives wrote books and got rich from this-When Detectives Fuhrman, late Van Atter & Lange did this that defeated idea of what public service is-when they became cops, their job was to protect public, stop crimes, arrest those they think committed crimes and help prosecutors prove they’re guilty. If they as ex-cops & ex prosecutors want to talk about why they think OJ Simpson murdered 2 people w/o getting rich from the case, then that would be talking about why they think he did it without profiting. But when they wrote books about this case and got rich, they defeated the idea of what public service is because cops and prosecutors job is public service and not get rich from crimes they investigate. When you profit from a murder case, we have right to know if they care about justice or is their main interest to get rich regardless of whether OJ Simpson is innocent or guilty of 1994 murder? Some people have said that since OJ Simpson was acquitted of 1994 double murder, that should have been be the end of the case whether he was innocent or guilty. The 1994 double murder case has sadly become about money.


    1. There are people who you call fools who watched whole 1995 murder trial & they don’t believe OJ Simpson did it such as late RJ Wagner (died 2003) who watched trial, did his own tests as an engineer & he honestly doesn’t think OJ Simpson did it based on his science tests, but visited crime scene around 15 to 20 minutes after double murder, which if true would explain why DNA found. Mr. Wagner did not write a book so he didn’t profit from case, but posted on web what he believes happened. Finally, must again say it’s possible that Ron L. Goldman was intended victim not Nicole as in murder cases, only the killer(s) know why they committed murder.


    1. I don’t know if OJ Simpson did or did not murder 2 people. Only said there were possible doubts in that case. Yes in criminal trial, you need proof beyond reasonable doubt, not any & all possible doubt. Just because you saw whole trial (I didn’t) doesn’t mean you know it all. Late RJ Wagner again saw whole trial & he doesn’t think OJ Simpson did it. While people condemn 1995 jury for not deliberating by acquitting him with under 4 hours deliberation after hearing months of testimony, there wasn’t much to deliberate because testimony repeated. If many people tell you same thing, then there isn’t much to consider. Jury heard many witnesses saying same thing over months, that it’s no surprise they deliberated for under 4 hours.


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