Tuesday night, I watched the chilling Frontline documentary League of Denial but throughout my viewing, my mind couldn't stop wandering to another recent cinematic experience: The Hunger Games.
I couldn't escape the feeling that The Hunger Games was intended as a meta-commentary on the NFL. Recruits are selected for the Games and are then thrust into a several-days long training/testing program where their physical talents and attributes are tested and shown off. Maybe they got the order reversed, but it sure sounds like the NFL Combine and NFL Draft to me. The participants are wined and dined and treated like royalty, paraded through the capital as heroes. That is, until the Games begin. Within a few short days, all but one of them will be dead.
Players in the NFL, however, don't die on the field. And maybe that's how we live with ourselves.
Right now, more than ever before, we know enough to recognize the way the NFL ruins its players lives. Sure, they are rewarded with fame and riches in the short-term and they are all free to make their own decision about whether or not to play. But the results are devastating.
Of course, every sport or physical activity carries risks of injury. But football is different. The difference between football (and boxing, for that matter) on the one hand and sports like baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, and even auto racing, on the other, is akin to the differences between cigarettes and alcohol. Alcohol can kill you if you abuse it. Cigarettes will kill you if you use them as directed. As will playing football.
Injuries and sometimes even death are a part of sports (and all facets of life). But in other sports, they happen by accident. When someone makes a wide turn and crashes into a wall or gets hit in the head by a pitch, it's an aberration from the normal play of the game. In football, however, the brain damage that football players sustain from lowering their heads into a an oncoming 300-pound linebacker or left tackle play after play, day after day, for years.
And after taking in the details provided in League of Denial -- not only what the NFL knew and when they knew it but even more so their active campaign to quash any attempts to reveal the truth of the dangers of playing football -- and the analogy to Big Tobacco is complete. The NFL is selling "coolness" with a side effect of death. But the industry is too big and too many people are getting rich for anyone to put an end to it.
NFL players are dying. And they're doing it for our entertainment.
I wish I could say that this realization would change my behavior. I wish I could say I would stop watching football or supporting the NFL.But I know I won't. This fall, like every other fall, I will spend close to 10 hours every other Sunday watching my television, as men pummel each other and slowly die for my amusement. On the other Sundays, I'll pay upwards of $100 on tickets, parking, food, and beer to see it in person. Call me a co-conspirator, I suppose.
I wish I could be convinced that I'm wrong about this. Because right now I can't help feeling like my continued support of the NFL makes me immoral, unethical, and hypocritical. I so badly want to be wrong about this.