I love the game of football. I’ve played it and I’ve coached it. I’ve spent hours agonizing over fantasy lineups and breaking down the pros and cons of using a zone defense over man coverage. I grew up watching Montana to Rice and saw first hand the good professional sports can do when Drew Brees and Sean Payton gave hope back to my adopted home when it needed it desperately. Maybe most importantly my dad played football too and talking to each other about the game we love is one of the ways we’ve been able to bond over the years. I love the game of football and so it pains me greatly to say that my conscience will not allow me to be a consumer of the National Football League any longer.
I use the word consumer deliberately here because as much as they may call us fans to our faces this is what the owners of professional sports teams think of us as behind closed doors. And on the surface I have no problem with this. The NFL is a business. They produce an entertainment product, just like video games or television shows. And if that was the end of it then that would be enough but its not the end of it. Because while professional football may be a business it is also represents the pinnacle of a game. A game that is embedded in the fabric of our culture. A game that is used to bring strangers together. A game that teaches our children about discipline and teamwork. A game that allows us to marvel at what we as humans are capable of achieving. These are societal goods that are hard to quantify but we all know are there.
And because we know these public goods exist we use public funds to subsidize the NFL and other professional sports leagues. By building stadiums with taxpayer money. By allowing the NFL, a seven billion dollar industry, to operate as a non-profit while simultaneously granting them anti-trust exemption. This is a public investment. More than that it is a social contract that demands the NFL operate with integrity.
We often talk about the responsibilities of professional athletes to conduct themselves in a manner befitting their station as role models. Isn’t it time that we demand management hold themselves to that same standard? League officials are responsible for more than increasing the owners profits. They are responsible for safeguarding the game we love. They are responsible to us.
They have failed in that responsibility. This league cares more about deflated footballs and catching pot smokers than it does about addressing the child abusers and wife beaters in its mist. And when called out on that bent moral compass they over-correct and overstep the law. This is a league that has consistently and publicly lied to advance its own interests. A league that put its own monetary interests above player safety and got paid to wrap itself in the American flag.
That last bit for me was what finally pushed me over the cliff. Taking money from the pentagon to honor combat veterans and then pretending like you’re doing it because you’re just so damned patriotic is reprehensible to such a degree that I don’t know if we even have a word for it in English.
I know that the NFL is not the only organization that fails to honor the public trust but for me personally I can no longer spend my time, energy, or money on an organization that is corrupting something that I love. So I must follow my conscience and abstain from the NFL until my concerns have been addressed and rectified.