“On Sunday? Oh, I can’t,” I would say to friends. “Football is on.” For the past eight years, I have tried to get all of my errands out of the way on Saturdays, because it has been a safe bet that I wouldn’t be setting foot outside on Sunday. I would wake up on Sunday morning and turn on ESPN (and later, the NFL network) and devour Sunday Countdown, even though the jokes were corny and the substance of the show was repetitive. When September of 2014 rolled around, however, that routine came to a halt.
I could have watched over 100 hours of NFL football this season; I watched about 8. When I did watch, the games held little of my attention, and instead served as background noise. How did I get here, you ask? Being an NFL fan has been a struggle of late (Violent hits can cause concussions? You don’t say!), but it really came to a head during the most recent off-season. I don’t consider myself to be an activist type, but something about the Ray Rice incident, combined with all of the other unpleasant aspects of the league – Commissioner Roger Goodell’s exorbitant salary, inconsistent punishments, rampant cronyism, hollow initiatives like “A Crucial Catch” – not to mention the NFL’s ridiculous status as a non-profit organization, truly made me rethink my position as a fan.
As a woman, I already felt marginalized by the NFL, a league that always seems to be surprised when it’s revealed that women make up about 45% of fans watching the Super Bowl; a league that insists on selling team-branded thongs. “What’s the point of watching?” I asked myself. I was under no delusions that the NFL cared about me (or any fan) as an individual human being, but watching Roger Goodell’s increasingly tone-deaf reactions to the Rice fiasco truly hit home. It would not have taken a forensic investigator to figure out what had gone on in that elevator; we all had a pretty good idea.
I didn’t disconnect from the NFL completely this season. I listened to a couple of podcasts, and I skimmed articles on Grantland, but my heart wasn’t in it. Besides, after years of trying, 2014 marked the year that hockey and I finally clicked, and I became entranced by the game. The speed! The checks! The hugs! It all paled in comparison to watching a plodding football game, with its endless replay angles and commercial breaks. Hockey is not without its problems, but Gary Bettman is not an embarrassment to his league. He has a department of player safety to hand out punishments; he does not do it all on his own.
I don’t believe that I’ll try to go back to the NFL next season. Every day seems to bring a new disappointment, whether it’s finding out that the charges against former Carolina Panther Greg Hardy have been dropped, or that the the league’s “No More” initiative is nothing more than a public relations cipher, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. When the NFL announces anything positive, like the hiring of Dr. Elizabeth Nabel as the league’s first chief health and medical adviser, I take it with a grain of salt. She may be an outstanding physician, but how much will the NFL muzzle her findings? Roger Goodell still wants an absurd 18 game season, which will put the health of the players at an even greater risk.
I’m sure that I’m not the only one who had decreased NFL viewing habits this past season. The website Deadspin even offered a weekly guide for those who weren’t watching the games. I know that the loss of a few hundred viewers will not affect the NFL’s bottom line, but I feel good about the partial stand that I’ve taken, even if it’s not absolute. The NFL has become too big of a disappointment for that young girl who was once glued to the television, watching as the New England Patriots completed a beautiful drive on a snowy field. I’ll still appreciate a beautiful catch if I happen to look up and see one, but I’m not likely to clap my hands in glee and exalt happily, the way that I once did. The NFL itself committed a personal foul against me, a foul that pushed the league all the way back to the 1 yard line, and almost completely out of my mind.