A Football Fantasy

The first thing to notice about America’s ongoing NFL problems is how very easy they are to solve.

The epidemic of concussions and other injuries, including brain damage, among players past and present.  The flagrant cheating by the New England Patriots by means of secretly recording other teams’ coaching signals.  The “bounties” offered by players and coaches on the New Orleans Saints to mutilate its opponents on the field.  The residual queasiness of teams accepting openly gay teammates.  And, of course, the recent kerfuffles involving star players abusing women and children and more or less getting away with it.

These incidents and more—specifically, the league’s reaction to them—have drawn enormous attention and wide condemnation from all corners of the United States, inducing everything from congressional hearings to calls for the sacking of Commissioner Roger Goodell.

No doubt these limited efforts to coax the NFL to get its act together will generate real results—indeed, some already have—but there is one obvious way the entire American public could force the National Football League to fly right once and for all, and it dwarfs all the others.

America should boycott the NFL.

Take the year off.  Don’t watch the games.  Don’t buy the jerseys.  Don’t join an online fantasy league.

Quit professional football cold turkey.  Yes, even on Thanksgiving, when you can easily occupy yourself with hot turkey.

Let me be clear:  I’m not talking about a series of piddling one-person protests involving some inane, self-righteous Facebook rants orchestrated by a bunch of people who, for the most part, don’t really care about football, anyway.

I’m talking about season ticket holders not showing up on game day, and everyone else not purchasing tickets at all.  I’m talking about dropping your NFL Sunday Ticket subscription and not so much as flipping past ESPN or NBC when a game is on.

I’m talking about abstaining from the NFL’s regular promotions, and not buying products with the league’s logo printed on the packaging.

Starve the beast.  Make the league’s front office go into a white hot panic.  Force the commissioner and his underlings to reform the NFL’s practices and policies as a matter of maintaining not just the league’s image, but its very livelihood.

If the people of America are even half as outraged at the behavior of the National Football League as they claim to be—if the league deserves to be punished and browbeaten into taking the concerns of women and gays and retired players as forcefully as everyone insists—then the threat of a nationwide football fan strike is the only logical course of action.

After all, up until now, the main rationale for the NFL doing as little as possible in solving its myriad PR problems is that it is, in the end, the most powerful sports organization on planet Earth, generating nearly $10 billion in revenue each year.

Well, what could possibly be more effective in getting its attention than striking a blow to every last source of this pile of gold?  Issuing statements of condemnation is all well and good.  But actually withholding money from an organization that cares about nothing but money?  Now we’re talking.

Instituting an embargo against the NFL is the obviously right thing to do.  So why don’t we do it?

Well, that’s an easy one, isn’t it?  It’s because Americans love football just a little bit too much.  It’s because the game is too firmly threaded into the national fabric for us to simply turn our backs.

It’s because, when push comes to shove, we think football is more important than defending the rights of women and children.

In an ideal world, that would be a provocative and outrageous assertion.  In the world in which we actually live, it’s a simple statement of fact.  With the NFL’s TV ratings as strong as ever, in spite of all the controversy, how could it be otherwise?

Certainly, that’s not the way individual football fans explain it to themselves.  (Who would admit to being an enabler of wife beaters and child abusers?)  Instead, they rationalize their sports viewing habits either by proclaiming their own team guiltless in the current scandals, or, failing that, insisting that the league is, in fact, slowly learning its lesson and that this whole mess will be cleaned up shortly and everything will go back to normal.  Forgive and forget, as they say.

Then there are the honest fans, who either a) admit to being hypocritical about this and are comfortable living with the contradiction, or b) are simply too oblivious to understand that a contradiction is occurring.

I confess that I speak from the convenient position of someone who hasn’t watched an NFL game from start to finish since the Giants defeated the Patriots three Super Bowls ago, and who would not be terribly broken up if my apocalyptic proposal actually played itself out.  I don’t have to experience an endless series of dark nights of the soul, reconciling an uncontrollable affection for something that is self-evidently rotten to the core.

However, untold millions of my fellow Americans do, and since a massive shakeup like I have outlined will never occur, the country’s loyal football fans should at least recognize their culpability in a continuing national disgrace, and that there is far more they can do to rectify it than simply penning an angry tweet and sitting right back in front of the TV in time for opening kickoff.

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