On Readiness for Some Football

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Confused about enjoying the NFL this year? Kaepernick, concussions, and the Commish got you conflicted?

Perhaps you’re questioning whether your principles still jive with America’s most popular sport. It’s good to consider, since you’re deciding where your time goes these next few months. A season’s a commitment; personally I don’t book a show or make a plan without first checking the Packers’ schedule, if I haven’t already memorized it.

Pretty wild how I let it rule me; I don’t make time to watch any other TV shows, online or otherwise. Sizing up another football season amid parenthood, marriage, home ownership, and the equivalent of two full-time jobs, it stings to think of surrendering the next 20-or-so Sundays. I’ve never valued my time so greatly, so if anything I’d love a reason to reclaim some of it.

It so happens that every year sees more calls from non-sports media encouraging/guilting/berating me to do just that: boycott the NFL! (Wait…different media outlets vying for viewers’ attention? Stop the [competition’s] presses!)

I’m going to list my pros and cons of NFL fandom here and decide for myself, thank you much. Like all entries I hope this helps you, but if you disagree with something (most likely my elaboration on a con) I hope you’ll explain why.

Ready? Down….Set….Overthink!

What I Like about NFL Football

Meritocracy

Even practice squad players were the best athletes in their neighborhoods if not their colleges. Anyone in the league takes his natural talents as far as he can and it’s inspiring. It helps that I understand the sport; I can watch gymnastics, for example, and enjoy the spectacle, but I don’t know enough about that sport to appreciate its participants’ efforts like I can with football.

Strategy

I like the game, and the games within the game. Effort and ability are nothing without intelligence or plans. Players constantly cram; they have to know what to do, when to do it, and why. On top of that, coaches work tirelessly to perfect their playbooks, and to get their players on the same page. On top of that, professional training staff try to provide any possible advantage in conditioning and diet. What we see on Sundays is a physical battle of ideas.

Honesty

There is a common goal, and everyone involved knows and seeks it. There’s honesty in that—in someone running as fast, or pushing as hard as they can, or in making what they think is the right decision in a high-pressure situation. No pretense, no false modesty—they all want to win. Shoot, not that I approve, but even the cheating and cheap shots are honest (though not honorable) in that sense, if that makes sense. The players and coaches desire something and pursue it openly, whether they fall on their faces or succeed. This makes for strong and genuine emotions, too, which isn’t necessarily the case in other forms of live entertainment.

My Team

I’d like to think that if I hadn’t been raised in Green Bay I’d still appreciate the Packers, but this is my city so of course they’re my team. GB’s situation is objectively unique, being the league’s smallest market and all, but for me that meant growing up around and with countless people linked to the team (players, coaches, executives, their kids, etc.).

There’s a culture about the Packers that local fans protect and take pride in; I only realized I took that for granted when I left the state for college. Actually, before that, as a teenager getting into punk rock I’d even fought my unfashionable fandom. One day at a concert, though, a local singer we respected, in the middle of his set, wiped his sweaty face with a Title Towel. *Gasp!* People from the crowd called him out on his uncoolness, and he didn’t care at all; just told us he loved the Packers and went into the next song. My friends and I looked at each other, shocked. I felt like l’d just been granted punk permission; an early lesson in individuality, I suppose. Anyway, I love this team, its history, and my own history with it.

Entertainment

I’m a huge fan of live entertainment; it’s immediate, ephemeral, unedited, intense, and shared. Mostly music, but I also like stand-up comedy, theatre, and yes, sports. I really enjoy going to games at Lambeau Field and have had the privilege of attending perhaps 80. I’ve gambled on going to away games (and lost), too. But experiencing something in person is always the best: watching the game with naked eye (not through a screen), and getting to see the whole field and not just the line of scrimmage shown on TV, as well as whatever’s happening on the sidelines (and in the stands) is just great. The excitement and camaraderie in the stadium beat the comfort and convenience of watching at home.

Making “Live from Stadium Drive”

Doing our podunk Packer show’s  been one of my favorite projects I’ve ever gotten to do. Stay tuned for this season, but Tommy and I have had a blast through the last three, and it’s all because of this sport and team.

That was fun to write! This probably won’t be.

What I Tolerate about NFL Football

Injuries

I was at Lambeau for the play that ended Jermichael Finley’s career. He lay still on the field, surrounded by paramedics. I was never a football jersey guy, and J-Mike’s happened to be the first I’d ever owned. That day, for all I knew I’d just witnessed him—a 26-year-old father—die, and for a game. He lived of course, but never played again. I’d never so deeply considered the danger or ethics of the game. I can find some solace in the fact that he’s a very wealthy man, but injuries are awful, not even so much for the pain of the moment, but for the lasting effects. Devaluing a man’s life and health is depressing and exploitative, but if someone sizes up a risk and wants to pursue it, taking responsibility for whatever its outcome may be, I have a hard time telling them they can’t do what they want to do. The risk is their own, they’re adults, it’s voluntary, and there’s consent. Very tough stuff, though.

Virtue Signaling

Whether it’s to combat falling ratings or to aim for record highs, the NFL is constantly trying to expand its viewership. This has bred “NFL Gives Back”-type featurettes, pink uniforms for breast cancer awareness, and camouflage uniforms for veterans. Are there nice gestures in there? Yes. But realistically these are done for marketing purposes only.

Political Drama

This isn’t part of the game itself, much as some want it to be. I think of Bob Dylan in “Don’t Look Back” telling a reporter no, his audiences weren’t masochists looking to be scolded—they want to be entertained. Yes, entertainment can be intellectual, political, too, but it is textbook narrow-mindedness to view life through a singular lens. It can’t be mentally healthy to see everything politically only. I do come to football to get away from politics for a minute; please let me! Colin Kaepernick decided to do something bold, and I hope he doesn’t regret his decision. My overall take is that players can allow their politics to overshadow their play if they want, and teams can sign them if they want.

Waste

I do think of the resources burned to bring us these broadcasts—to transport the teams and staff, and the equipment necessary. Also, the transportation for hundreds of thousands of fans a week. The game itself is not as direct a gas guzzler (or rubber… ruiner) as NASCAR, but I still cringe at the thought of all the gallons gone and garbage created.

Commercials

A necessary evil. I would gladly pay $5 a broadcast to not have them, but don’t tell Goodell.

Conclusion

I’m aware of my inclination to keep watching the NFL, to justify it one way or another. But it’s not because of any pride, sunk cost fallacy, nor status quo bias; I’ve drifted from many former interests despite whatever money or time I’d invested in them. (Video games, snowboarding, and some bands come to mind.)

My football fandom might be as much about connection with other people as it is the game itself. I’m rarely interested in new movies or music, so it is kind of nice to have some form of modern media I can talk to so many friends, coworkers, or even strangers about. I can have nothing else in common with someone, even find their other opinions odious, and still kill an hour, easily, talking about football. I like that! They don’t even have to be a Packer fan; I always say I’d rather talk to a smart fan of a rival team than a stupid fan of my team. Which is to say, I’ll high-five absolutely anyone in green n’ gold when our team scores.

The team aspect is something else I enjoy. It’s intellectually indulgent. I fight very hard to straddle political division, to view issues fairly and openly from all sides, and to maintain independent thought, but with football, my team rules, your team sucks, and that’s that. Your team could beat my team and your team still sucks. Sports is a great outlet for groupthink.

I’m also just a huge fan of this team’s current coach, quarterback, and general manager. Maybe my fandom will wane as that holy trinity splinters, but for now, I am very, very ready for some football.

Yes? No? Challenge? Holler,

-Matty

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