I’ve spent the better part of the last 18 months trying not to be an asshole. I preface statements with modifiers like “I really don’t want to be an asshole here” and “Please tell me if saying this makes me a jerk” which -I am more than aware- is the territory of the asshole trying to excuse his behavior, but please believe me when I say this; I’m honestly trying to improve the way I interact with others. Which brings me to football.
I really don’t care for the game. My dad was an all-star high school quarterback and football was a defining facet of both his life and his two brothers’. To his credit, he never pushed me toward it in any way, either as a participant or a fan. As a rather aggressive American male with a few testosterone-heavy recreational pursuits, I found myself surrounded by football fans as a young man. I’ve attended a handful of college games (note to European readers: American college football games often have more than 50,000 fans in attendance) and watched quite a few NFL games with friends, picking up on the basic vernacular and gameplay. More recently, my 89-year-old Southern Baptist grammy has been watching her beloved University of Nebraska Cornhuskers at Goose Loonies, a downtown sports bar. I’ll join her there for the game, (generally the oldest fan there, she’s immensely popular) her with a rum-and-coke and me with a red ale or IPA. All of this socializing of the game has had no effect on me whatsoever. I always want the game to end sooner that it actually will. I’ve tried enjoying it for a long time and it’s just not my bag.
I have major problems with some of the human ramifications of the game. I can’t count how many gym buddies I have who are seriously and permanently damaged just from playing in high school. Those who played in college are usually far worse off. More and more information seems to be coming to light about the long-term effects of playing football, and the NFL has continued to display an abominable record of taking this shit seriously. Back in 2011, Dave Duerson shot himself in the heart, taking great pains to ensure that his suicide would not interfere with researchers’ ability to study his brain. Convinced that he suffered from chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, he went so far as to text friends and family moments before his death, imploring them to make sure his brain was donated to science. American football is more of a meat grinder than boxing, the UFC and Thai kickboxing all lumped together.
Working at small provincial high schools has given me an entirely new perspective on the social implications of our nations’ glorification of the young men on the gridiron. Libraries and attendance offices alike display massive posters declaring that “Even the Best Athletes Get Stopped at the 2.3 Line” (referring to the 2.3 GPA required to stay on the team). The kids that play are all walking around on social stilts and the ones that really play well are being carried. The trope of the high school star replaying his glory days in his mind while working at a dead-end job at 38 aren’t the result of literary speculation.
Then we get to the favorite complaint of the non-sporty: the waste of attention and focus that is professional sports. The amount of people who can name half the roster of the Seattle Seahawks but can’t tell you who our Secretary of State is, or what OPEC or Boko Haram are. Image macros float around: If Only People Cared as Much About Date Rape/ALS/Clean Water/The Keystone Pipeline as They Care About the Air in Footballs. SMBC Comics touched on the pride that goes into this kind of anti-fandom:
I have every right to not give a shit about football, but does it not make me an asshole if I look down on people for giving a shit themselves? If I might be excused for linking to another webcomic, Randall Munroe says it rather well:
Asshole-ery is decidedly entered into when we are outrightly dismissive. Condescension isn’t helping anyone. If you want to alienate people by cutting them down so you feel bigger in you highly evolved intellectual superiority, go right ahead. If you have some actual concerns about the medical and social ramifications of the game, well, good luck on getting anyone to listen to you after you’ve dismissed all the lesser humans with your jokes about “sportsball” and “I hope my team moves the thing over to the other thing more than the other team”.
If I seem overly critical here, it’s because I’m keenly aware of how many times I’ve been that guy. It’s not flattering. It’s empty intellectual posturing and it’s counterproductive to actually accomplishing anything good. I’m not going to be watching the game, but I’m sure as hell not going to pass judgement on anyone that does. Enjoy your time with friends, and don’t be an asshole.