I am not a sports fan. I might even describe myself as the anti-sports fan. Occasional viewing is fine, and so is mild fandom, but for many years I neither encouraged nor approved of sports-obsessing. (In my mind the only things worth obsessing about are politics, Springsteen tour dates, and the odd celebrity scandal). It all seemed silly, pointlessly aggressive, and boorish (sports, not politics. OK, maybe both).
When I first got married I made my distaste for sports-watching immediately known–and no sport was more disdained by me than football. I must have read a New York Times editorial at some point in which I learned that domestic abuse cases spiked on Super Bowl Sunday. I would stand in between my husband and the game on the TV and announce this fact each time I found him watching. He wasn’t really enough of a fan to overcome the power of my withering glare and incessant preaching. Eventually, football went away.
It went away until my boys found it and brought it into our home with passion and glee. At first, I tried the same tactic that had worked so very well on my husband. I had no luck. A trusted friend advised me: If you can’t beat them, join them. They are going to watch it anyway; if you don’t get involved you’ll be cut out of the equation. I suppose this argument could be made to all sorts of things that I am not about to try watching with my boys (ahem), but for football, it worked. I watched. I followed. I encouraged their insane fandom.
But all the time I knew what was going on behind the scenes–the exploitation of the players, the players’ own troubled behavior. For the most part, it wasn’t making big headlines, and every time I brought it up, my boys turned away from me and toward the NFL.
Now, there is nowhere else for them to look. Sometimes I hide the front page of the New York Post for reasons of taste (no more Spitzer toe-sucking, thankyouverymuch) or for reasons of their own well-being (I just learned that after seeing one too many gory pics in the Post, one of the kids didn’t realize that the ISIS kidnappings where happening in Syria, not here. I had to convince him that ISIS was not coming to the Bronx any time soon).
The Post is now helpful. The boys are reading all about Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and the entire list of players behaving badly. Plus, the talking heads on ESPN are talking about it, too. It’s in Sports Illustrated and it’s on the radio, and not just on NPR.
In short, it’s everywhere.
Now I don’t seem like an out-of-touch harpy when I bring it up. We can talk about violence and abuse. I can tell them that there is nothing in the world that would justify this sort of behavior, that no matter how well you can run with a dead pig in your hands, if you break the law, you do not deserve all the glorious perks of the professional athlete, and if the teams and the League’s commissioner do nothing about this behavior, then they don’t deserve our attention, time, or money. I can also tell them that I truly believe that to play this tough sport, it’s necessary for some players to summon incredible amounts of aggression and violence, and it’s the NFL’s responsibility to help its players to better transition to life off the field.
Don’t get me wrong. I hope Commissioner Goodell steps down and then donates half of his 40 million dollar annual salary to victims of domestic abuse as well as abuse prevention in the NFL. I hope each and every sponsor walks away from the League. I want the networks to refuse to show the games and I want newspapers, magazines, and radio shows to refuse to cover them.
I just want my boys to be watching when it happens.