Full disclosure; I’ve never played a down of organized football in my life, but dammit I love it.
I love football. I love the game. I love everything around the game, the crowds, the shit talking, the walking in the office on a Monday morning after my team wins and basking in the feeling of superiority over the fans of the teams that lost. It’s one of the highlights of the week. It’s what makes all the pumpkin spiced bullshit of the fall bearable and something to look forward to other than talking to family members at Thanksgiving.
I grew up in a football town and watched the likes of Aaron Brooks, Ronald Curry, Mike Vick, and Allen Iverson play in high school (writer’s note: Iverson was arguably better at football than basketball). In Newport News and southeastern Virginia as a whole is a little-known football hotbed and football culture is embedded in our psyche. From Friday nights at Todd or Darling Stadium, to Saturday afternoons watching our Wahoos or our Hokies, to Sundays when we’d all gather around to watch our beloved Washington Redskins, the game is a way of life.
For us, football represented an opportunity. Play the game well enough at Dorie Miller or Aberdeen, maybe you’ll get to play in high school. Play big in the Peninsula District, maybe you’ll get a scholarship. Play in college, and maybe you’ll be like some of the guys that came before you and go pro. Play pro ball and unto you be the glory because you finally broke free of your blue-collar shackles.
I viewed football as an integral part of the American Dream. It was a way out, a means to self-elevation, and a way for guys who might not have had other means to make it. I actively encouraged folks to get into the game. I told people how proud I was of the guys I knew on the field. I bragged about how my little town put out so many players.
But I can’t do that anymore.
I can’t watch it. I can’t follow it. I can’t support it. I can’t endorse it. I can’t condone even the idea of its existence as its transgressions and its hypocrisies have finally collapsed upon themselves and the façade of joy that I claimed to have derived from it can no longer be sustained.
I overlooked the violence against women that went unpunished for far too long.
I paid no attention to the players’ off the field proclivities as I gave them the old, “boys will be boys” pass to condone self-destructive behavior which the league tacitly promoted.
I offered weak pleas when rampant homophobia ended a player’s career before it even started.
I even operated against my own logic by turning a blind eye to the system of low key slavery that exists in its college ranks (more on that another time).
Again and again, autumn after autumn, I lulled myself into a subtle submission that allowed me to make excuses for the barbarism I was supporting on the field because I was a fan.
But recently, events have aligned themselves in such a way to make my intellectual hypocrisy untenable and driven me to a point of reckoning that was long overdue. Between the incontrovertible evidence of the damage of the game on the brain in the form of CTE and the rolling professional lynching of Colin Kaepernick, football has shown itself to be morally unworthy of my complicity and ethically unmoored from my sense of propriety.
I cannot, in clear conscience, support a sport or a league that would knowingly and willfully subject its players to systemic yet unnecessary physical hazard and mental harm for the sake of entertainment and revenue. I cannot ask someone to risk the health and safety of their child for the violently hedonistic enjoyment of me and mine. I cannot know about the dangerous realities of the game and still look on as if it doesn’t matter.
Just like I wouldn’t watch the World Series of Cigarette Smoking or a professional Russian Roulette league, I can’t watch people commit something tantamount to suicide while I cheer them on.
Conversely, I cannot in clear conscience, support a sport or a league that would blackball a player for having an opinion. I can’t allow myself to succumb to their intellectual brutality through complicity. I can’t let them do what I’ve seen done to countless Black men in the workplace and stand idly by while they try to destroy a man whose only wrong was saying he disagreed with the status quo.
Colin Kaepernick, in many ways, represents the infantilizing of Black men in Corporate America where we are all too often asked to be seen but not heard. Where we are welcome to entertain, but not to inform. Where we have to hide our own beliefs and values for the sake of the comfort of others.
The irony that our violence is welcomed on the field as a form of entertainment but our nonviolence off the field is called a distraction is not lost on me. Nor is the irony lost on me that, in demanding that a team sign Kaepernick, I’m asking him to risk his health and safety for my entertainment.
Reconciling this schism in my own mind can’t happen, so I quit football.
Because football is an ugly avatar or eerily accurate reflection on the American condition. Its success is predicated on denials of the damage it’s done. Its fortunes built on a twisted and broken pile of Black bodies. Its perpetuation built on a false dream of financial success with contracts that are easily broken and labor that is too easily toss aside, especially when they speak up or speak out.
The football industrial complex is predicated on stupidity. They need players that they deem stupid enough to take the risks of play for fans stupid enough to overlook how genuinely awful the sport is. Well, I’m not stupid.
It’s time that we all come to our senses and realize that we’ve been played. The game we’ve dedicated our time and our emotions to is a cruel business run by craven individuals who only value Black lives insofar as they can control them, trade them around, or cut them loose when they’re no longer deemed worthy. Football offers no redeeming value beyond violence and teaches us no great lessons other than needless pain. Football is stupid.
I value my mind and the minds of others.
I value my opinions and the opinions of others.
Football doesn’t align with my values anymore.
I quit football.