Monday, February 4, 2013

Should we Boycott the NFL?

Can a moral person continue to watch professional football? I have wrestled with this question of late. The prevalence of brain damage from head injuries is well documented, and with the recent death of Junior Seau linked to brain disease caused from injuries I am forced to admit that my entertainment comes at the expense of the health, well-being, and even life of these players.

I know the obvious reply: They choose to play the game, knowing these risks. If they choose to play it, then it's fine to watch them. But this simply will not do. I am not suggesting that we make football illegal, or censor it on TV, or even that we tell others to stop watching. I am asking myself, and asking my readers to ask themselves, if it is morally appropriate to derive enjoyment from watching others risk so much damage to themselves.

That these players choose to play football knowing the risk, does not mean we are innocent for watching. When a person is objectified, their dignity ignored, their pain made part of our entertainment, we have done something wrong to them, whether they consent to it or not. This is the kind of argument one often hears against going to strip clubs or watching pornography. When one engages in these activities one treats a fellow human being as if they were a mere "thing," and object existing solely for our satisfaction. If that argument applies to exotic dancers and pornographic actors, then it seems to apply to professional athletes just as well. And in this case, we are watching these men play a game that seriously threatens their well-being and health.

On the other hand, every profession and every sport carries risks. Sometimes those risk are severe. These men do know the risk and they apparently think it is worth the sacrifice. Furthermore, every time any person renders us a service we use them as a "thing." I doubt we are seriously meditating on the dignity and passion and rights of our garbage collectors, waiters, and other such persons. We do not and cannot always refrain from such behavior.

But this is not a matter of simple player choice. Most NFL players make a few hundred thousand a year and only play for a few seasons. Few of these players get high paying jobs after they retire and they are not given health care by the NFL. Furthermore, the NFL does not take necessary and relative simple steps to insure player safety.

This means that the NFL itself is exploiting its players for financial benefit. Their bodies are ruined and they are then left discarded and abandoned. All this simply to make a profit for billionaire owners. (returning to the analogy with porn and strip clubs: it is precisely this exploitation of individuals who are often emotionally damaged that is the real objection to pornography, not simply their getting naked and being sexual for the enjoyment of others)

So it is not a matter of simply knowing that these players chose a dangerous sport and they can get hurt. That is a choice one can make, and I see no problem being entertained by a game that makes those choices. But the abandonment of its players by the NFL is unacceptable.

Perhaps morality does require that we stop watching the NFL until the league treats its players as it deserves? On the other hand, the NFL is so wildly popular and so profitable that one can scarcely imagine sufficient outrage to affect a change. Does this mean we should just throw in the moral towel and enjoy the game?

I will be thinking about this very carefully during the off season.

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1 comment:

  1. Sorry good Sir, I just got around to reading this. I apologize for the delay.

    Very well written my friend. You raise some very good points. Prior to getting to your closing argument I had the same thought (the real issue is the way the players are treated and discarded by the owners).

    I don't think it, we as viewers/fans, have to be troubled (morally) by watching the NFL. It's unfortunate, but true, that these men chose this game as a lifestyle. Much like other jobs, or military service, you are made well aware of the inherent risk from a very young age (which is an issue all in itself).

    The real issue, as you raised so eloquently, is the absolute disregard and total objectification of the players, by their employers. Owners/teams demand that players fall into line and goose-step to their rules; play when hurt; and put everything on the line every Sunday, or else you're labeled a selfish person....which then is perpetuated and enforced by these so-called unbiased sport news outlets (one with FOUR big letters comes to mind). Which in turn, the majority of mindless fans then turn on the players as well.

    Another sad fact is that many of these players buy-in to this "Master/Servant" mentality put out their by the owners, and much like people with Stockholm Syndrome, it carries with them the rest of their career and into retirement. A great example is the former players that work for all these sports outlets, and how it seems a vast majority of them are quick to defend the owners and the Shield. That always baffles me. An example that pops to mind (besides the whole NFL veterans fund) is when Cam Newton was about to be drafted. The owner of the Carolina Panthers "made" him promise that he would never get any sort of tattoo on his body because he felt it "was a poor image for his brand"...where in actuality, that same owner had made comments before categorizing certain players (all black btw) as tattooed thugs.

    Who the hell is he to tell Cam what to do with his body? As long as Cam doesn't get a tattoo that reads "F*CK Carolina" on his body, I think it's his damn business if he wants to. But, then you had all these former players on the Big Letter network saying how Cam needed to get with the program and fall into line. Then, this same owner, is the one who during one early meeting prior to the strike constantly talked down to Payton Manning and Drew Breese, and referred to them as "Boy!" Luckily, both those men are smart enough, and mature enough, to not engage in that kind of back and forth.

    Anyway, sorry for writing a blog in response to your blog. It is very distressing. Thank you for writing this piece. There needs to be many more discussions, and A LOT of improvement.


Comments from many different points of view are welcome. But I will not publish any comments that are hateful, insulting, or filled with profanity. I welcome and encourage dialogue and disagreement but will not publish any hate speech.