Well, I did it. A whole weekend -- plus Monday night -- without football. No Sunday NFL, no Saturday college (non-pro) football, no Monday night football. None. Zero. Nada. And here I am to tell the tale. I can't really recall what I did all weekend, other than spend a couple of hours reading Steve Almond's Against Football, a terrific indictment of The Game as it is practiced in America.
Actually, it wasn't Almond's book that got me to give up football for the whole weekend. It started with the 60 Minutes report on CTE in football players -- pro, college and high school. And then the more recent study that one in three football players will suffer from early dementia. Add that to the bundle of lawsuits, suicides and desperate tales of debilitation from NFL vets.
Still, even that wasn't enough to persuade me to pass up the TV remote on Sunday afternoons. I have to admit it was the latest domestic abuse scandals that pushed my guilt meter into the danger zone. I had read the news stories and the feature pieces and all the other indictments of the NFL, but the Ray Rice episode was the final straw. I can't really cite one particular moment when I decided that I had to give up this bad habit, and I seriously doubt whether I can stay on the wagon, but at least I made it through the weekend.
Not that I am a football fanatic by any means. I played football in high school -- poorly -- and then forgot about it entirely. Until it became this huge spectacle and the Super Bowl was turned into a national super-event. Even then I watched it mostly for the kitsch, although I was secretly being drawn in by the sheer power of the sport -- the color, the speed, the violence. While my city of LA doesn't even have an NFL team, I would arbitrarily root for one team or another on any given Sunday. As I said, I'm not a diehard fan.
My biggest engagement in football was when my son played on a top-rated team in Southern California. My wife was instantly transformed into a rabid sidelines rooter, and while I was cheering for our team to win, I was also praying throughout the game that my son would not get hurt -- at least not seriously. That experience made me think more about the dangers of the game -- dangers that I had ignored when I played myself.
I visited Spain this summer and passed by a bullfighting ring that had been in continuous operation for centuries. Although there are still diehard bullfighting fans in Spain and some brave tourists who buy tickets to the spectacle, it has declined significantly in popularity in the modern age. From the gladiators coliseum to the boxing ring, the blood sports have gradually slipped from the forefront of popular entertainment, victims of changing times and tastes.
While football may endure for another generation or so as an entertaining spectacle, it appears likely to fade away as more parents confront the prospect of their high-school children facing early dementia, as school districts face lawsuits over debilitating injuries or deaths, and as colleges confront the dubious morality of their football programs. However one feels about this fascinating game, its future now seems clearly written on the wall of history. Before long, it may not be so hard to break the Sunday afternoon habit.