A fumbled fandom

An NFL fan questions if it’s really worth staying one

The NFL has taken the place of church on Sundays, in terms of numbers and quite possibly in terms of devotion. But, after years dedicating my Sundays to the NFL, I’m questioning my decision for the first time.

It’s become nearly impossible to justify the countless hours I spend dissecting football each week, as I’m starting to find the NFL more and more morally reprehensible.

Maybe I’m alone in this feeling, but I’m certainly not alone in my love for the NFL. The league maintains a constant presence in university sporting culture, on top of its hold on the public's attention.

That overwhelming presence makes it difficult to avoid, but how can I support an organization that doesn’t seem to uphold their values?

This is a league that employs players like defensive end Greg Hardy and running back Adrian Peterson. Hardy received just a four-game suspension after being charged and convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend and uttering threats. He also signed an $11.3 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys last year.

Hardy’s suspension for assaulting a woman is equivalent to Tom Brady’s suspension for knowing about deflated footballs.

Meanwhile, Peterson led the league in rushing yards last season, after missing nearly the entire 2014 campaign following his indictment on child abuse charges. As long as a player is good enough, teams are more than happy to bring back players regardless of what they do off the field.

However deplorable Peterson's actions are, I still can't help but be amazed by what he does as a player. I’m part of the problem. The chance to see him set records and score magnificent touchdowns is an incredibly enticing opportunity.

For every fan there’s a constant draw to the game, even when the players and league officials so often give us reason to walk away from it.

It’s not just what happens off the field that complicates the relationship we as fans have with the NFL. The league has been complicit in allowing brain injuries to become major problem among former players. Even with a concussion protocol in place, it’s clear that the NFL still doesn’t concern itself with the potential dangers arising from head injuries.

The league refused to even acknowledge the connection between concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy  a degenerative brain disease  until years after research from Dr. Bennet Omalu showed the disease to be present consistently in the brains of deceased former players.

But fans still enjoy watching big hits, despite the fact that these plays are slowly killing the players on both the receiving end and the giving end. How can I watch when I know this to be true?

There’s a very real sense of unease each time I watch a game or play Madden. Whether it’s seeing Peterson or Hardy on the field or seeing a possibly debilitating injury, there’s so much I’m unable to stomach in the NFL.

But I know I’ll be watching as many games as I can. And I hate that I can’t walk away. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

So this Sunday, when you’re watching whichever of the 32 NFL franchises you cheer for, think about whether you can keep supporting this league or whether you demand more from the organization.

I’m not ready to step away completely yet, but I’m getting closer. And even though it would have been unthinkable this time last year, I’m alright with that thought.

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