As another Super Bowl comes and goes, this time amidst a clamor over deflated footballs, I have to say I am happy to be living and working in a major metropolitan area that is still, for the moment, an NFL-Free Zone.
In recent weeks, breathless news commentators and Los Angeles civic leaders have expressed unabashed enthusiasm for the latest story that won't go away: "NFL team coming to LA?" An unspoken assumption in the resurgent buzz seems to be that having an NFL franchise in Los Angeles will be a great thing.
I don't think so. Considering what we now know about the long-term risks of head injuries caused by football and the NFL's continued resistance to addressing domestic violence, sports fans should reconsider whether having an NFL team is something to be proud of.
The devastating effect of head injuries routinely absorbed by football players is finally coming to light. Even "Iron Mike" Ditka, the archetype of the tough guy player and coach, said last week to HBO's Bryant Gumbel that if he had a young son today, he would not let him play football: "I think the risk is worse than the reward. I really do." Ditka is not the only one thinking this way: a December 2014 Bloomberg Politics Poll found that 50 percent of people do not want their son to play football. In that same poll, only 17 percent said that they expect the popularity of the sport to grow.
Maybe football is a bad long-term investment?
And then there is the continuing parade of stories about football players committing sexual assault and domestic violence against women and children. Social scientists have long pointed to a correlation between playing aggressive sports like football and ice hockey and violence against women; what is less well known is that there is also a correlation between incurring head injuries and committing off-field acts of violence. Todd Crosset, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, reported that men who suffered multiple head injuries were six times more likely to perpetrate marital violence.
Thankfully, there are some former football players--men like Jackson Katz and Don McPherson who are profiled in my new book, Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women--who have stepped up to lead a growing national effort to prevent men's violence against women. But I wonder if, just as with the way it deals with head injuries, the NFL's effort to prevent violence against women is more of a public relations containment strategy than an effort to change the ways that the sport glorifies violence.
Tolerance of pain and injury is the cultural core of football. If the league were to truly commit itself to confronting the roots of the long-term dangers to football players and to the people around them, the game would likely no longer be football as we know it.
Millions of people love to watch football, no doubt. But consider this: The same Bloomberg poll that showed declining parental support for football also revealed that professional class people are far more likely than working class people to say they would not let their sons play football. Do we really want a future in which boys and men from working class backgrounds, many of them men of color, will continue to pay the health costs for our dubious entertainment? Is this really what we want America's sport to represent?
But, what about the civic pride that comes with being an NFL city? Come on. Los Angeles already has plenty to be proud of: gorgeous coastlines and mountains; myriad ethnic cuisines and cultures; world class colleges and universities; a thriving creative culture in music and film; multiracial working people's organizations that are at the heart of a national push for a living wage.
NFL in LA? We just don't need the headaches.