Fall is upon us and lots of people are knee deep in the NFL season. Football is the most watched sport in America and for many years has truly been America’s game. But, there are a ton of big gnarly problems with the NFL that are slowly coming to a head. It’s a league that treats its players and fans terribly. It turns a blind eye to racism, sexism, and domestic violence. It vacuums up as much of your time and money as possible and still demands more. The NFL is like a terrible girlfriend; it’s time to quit caring about it, get on with your life, and dump the NFL already!
The NFL Doesn’t Care About Its Players
I was a fan of the NFL back when I was younger. When I look back, this was because I was a fan of the players. As the top grossing sport in America, the NFL draws some of the best athletes in the world. It’s also a unique sport in that it can draw a pretty wide range of body types. If you’re gigantic you can be a lineman like Albert Haynesworth, if you’re skinny and fast you can be a receiver like DeSean Jackson, if you’re short you could still excel as a running back like Darren Sproles. I loved watching these players do amazing things and rooted for them personally. Then I realized that the NFL just doesn’t give a damn about them.
This was the tipping point in my NFL fandom. I’d put up with a lot of crap over the years, but when I watched Frontline’s League of Denial I was disgusted. When people sign up to play sports they assume a risk of injury, but the idea is that the injuries are just painful and that if you’re tough enough you can persevere through the pain. Brain injuries are a whole other story. They might lead someone to kill himself, his friends, or even the mother of his child. Of course, when the NFL learned about CTE1 well over a decade ago, instead of funding more research to try and detect, prevent or treat it, they instead funded a huge misinformation campaign to try and pretend that it didn’t exist. You can just watch League of Denial right now and it’s probably enough to convince you to dump the NFL, but if you need more reasons there are plenty.
One Sided Contracts
In other major sports like baseball, basketball and hockey, players get guaranteed contracts. If they get hurt trying to help their team win they still get paid. In the NFL contracts are not guaranteed, so if a player gets hurt, or simply has a decline, he can get cut and not paid the rest of his contract (read this for more depth). On the other hand, if a player’s team sucks and he wants to leave for greener pastures, his contract locks him in and forces him to stay in a bad situation. Calvin Johnson said a big part of the reason he retired early was because
“I was stuck in my contract with Detroit, and they told me, they would not release my contract, so I would have to come back to them. I didn’t see the chance for them to win a Super Bowl at the time” Calvin Johnson via The Detroit News
When a team can cut a player at the drop of a hat, but one of the greatest players in history is locked in to playing with a terrible Detroit Lions squad for his entire career there is an issue. Sure, you might say, if a player is hurt I don’t want him taking up space on my team’s salary cap. But remember, that cap is not a law of nature, it’s a rule that the owners created to reduce pay and get fans on their side when they screw over once beloved players. I don’t want to be a fan of a sport that confines great players to terrible teams and then tosses them aside if they ever get hurt.
The NFL Condones Racism, Sexism, and Domestic Violence
The NFL’s race problems have been in the news a lot lately. This current wave began when Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest racism in America (but you probably already knew that). A year later he is out of the NFL despite being demonstrably better than the QBs on many current teams. This seems clearly an issue of race and politics trumping competitiveness. Some argue that he’s a distraction and shouldn’t be on a team because of that, but we’ve seen plenty of other distractions stay hired. Remember when Ray Rice knocked out his fiancee in an elevator then dragged her limp body away? You’d think that having such a monster on your team would be quite a distraction, yet the Ravens initially said they were keeping him on their team and kept up this stance for months until finally caving to public pressure to release him. Of course there are plenty of other abusers of women still playing in the NFL. The double standard here shows how the NFL condones both racism, sexism and domestic violence.
But What If You “Don’t See Race”?
The NFL used to be nice “safe space” for people who simply “don’t see race”. You could scream out a racist slur without shame because it was simply a team name with “tradition”. Back then only little known electronica artists and a few sportswriters would criticize you, but nowadays it feels like the entire “liberal” media is on your back. If you staunchly believe that “blue lives matter” you are regularly confronted with football players actively trying to show you that it’s actually black folks who are oppressed in American society. The gall of them! Players and teams all across the league have joined Kaepernick’s protest and it is pissing you off. Sure, you can try ignore the racial component, to compartmentalize this protest as simply disrespectful to the military, but that just angers you even more. It’s gotten so bad that some restaurant owners have stopped showing NFL games entirely. If you don’t see these protests as valid attempts to bring about a more equitable society then we probably don’t agree on much, but maybe we can agree that it is time to dump the NFL? (Full disclosure: I grew up in the Washington D.C. area and rooted for the football team there for many years. I didn’t think much of it at first but over time I came to understand the context of their team name and that I was being racist by shouting it.)
The NFL Drains Your Time and Money
If there’s one thing we all wish we had more of it’s time. I didn’t realize how much of my free time was devoted to the NFL until I finally quit it. Originally, it was just one 3 or 4 hour game a week for a few months a year. Then it expanded to watching 2 or 3 games every Sunday for 6-12 hours. Then we added in another Monday night game and a Thursday night game, and hours spent perfecting my fantasy football lineups and reading NFL news. At my worst I probably spent 30+ hours a week on the NFL. That is a lot of time!!! It also happens to coop you up inside on so many beautiful fall weekends when the weather is at its best2.
At the very least I was able to resist most of the NFL’s come-ons to spend money. I never watched a game in person because the cheapest tickets are still like $100 per seat and that doesn’t even add in the cost of food and parking. I did get suckered into buying a hat, but avoided the $100+ jerseys and the hideous $800 leather jackets. If you consider yourself a true NFL fan, try and do an accounting of all the money it has cost you. Is it $1,000, $10,000, more? The NFL pulled in over 13 billion dollars in 2016, and that money came from the fans. If you’re wondering why your wallet is a little light these days, look no further than the NFL.
Dump the NFL Already
It turns out that lots of people are already figuring out that it’s time to dump the NFL. Youth football participation is declining. NFL players are retiring early to avoid brain damage. And NFL television ratings in 2016 were down nearly 10% from the prior year. In an October 2017 poll the NFL lagged behind both baseball and basketball in popularity. There are plenty of other sports out there, and they all have some issues, but outside of, say, underground bareknuckle boxing, none are as screwed up as the NFL (apologies to any underground bareknuckle boxers out there, maybe you’re not being totally exploited and your leagues are very progressive, I didn’t research that thoroughly).
Stop wasting your time and money on this terrible, racist and sexist league that doesn’t give a damn about its players.