There is a point when you have to reevaluate your relationship with another being. You to start asking yourself if it’s healthy to keep pursuing this idea of what love is. Every tragic love story doesn’t end because the love is no longer there, but rather because the love would never end. Because you would go to great lengths to protect that sacred connection. You would, and have, compromised so much of who you are in order to keep that love alive. But at some point, hopefully, you make the decision that no love is worth your soul. This is the inner battle I have been wrestling with for some time regarding the NFL, and my love for football, and how far–or how low–it would, and did, take me.
I’ve spent the greater part of the last few years contemplating breaking off a life-long relationship with not just the NFL, but football in general. I think the launching pad was in 2013, when three high school players videotaped raping a girl and thought it was funny. You saw how a community, as well as media, both local and national, could stand behind three rapists because they could carry a ball. We see on the collegiate level, time and time again, how rapists go on to win Heismans, to be seen as heroes, and go on to make millions. In the NFL, they can ignore it until there are no other options but to act–not because of a higher calling, because all other avenues have been exhausted.
I grew up the son of a Division-1, award winning coach. Sports wasn’t just seen in my house as a game, but a place where humanity wrestled with the big questions. I saw every Sunday as day when miracles could happen, when the forces of good could prevail. I remember being 16-year-old budding black nationalist and how proud I was when two black coaches brought their teams to the Super Bowl. I remember the Patriots’s almost-perfect season. I grew up seeing sports as a way out. Every sunday was a new chance, where limitless possibilities could be fulfilled. Every Sunday was a day when worries could be forgotten, at least for four quarters. I can imagine other fans of the game may feel the same, but I saw my life through those players. I was a 15-year-old boy, product of unhealthy environments, and I turned to the triumphs of those I admired as my own triumphs. Football, and all sports, was ecstasy for me. I found myself escaping to those realities. Like one would do with a love they knew to be doomed, I would get lost in a game, knowing those four quarters would soon be over, but it was the moment I needed.
But that euphoria has its expiration date when you can no longer ignore how a love may doom you, no matter how good it may feel. There are many reasons that have driven me from supporting the NFL, but I think the conversation ends when the NFL has shown again and again that it does not value women’s bodies as much as profits. I am of the belief that you cannot stand against rape culture, misogyny, and sexism and still tune in to the NFL as if none of those things connect to your love of the game and break down your spirituality.
Love is blind, that much is true. I’m realizing now that my love of the game kept me from seeing the many layers of a problematic power structure within the NFL, and how it doesn’t just impact the NFL, but trickles down to the collegiate level, to high school, and to every single man who plays the game or loves it, and thus every woman in their lives. It’s not just a few bad apples. While perhaps only a few players commit sexual assault, a whole system exists which ignores it, validates and empowers these young men through reinforcing the attitudes which let them get away with rape. It’s an institution we have to stop supporting. What message are we giving young men when we ignore these unhealthy signs?
There comes a point, as a man, that you have to set aside your priviledge and acknowledge the ugly beast for what is. I’m realizing now that I’ve been running away from something I’ve known for some time now. Avoiding a reality I never wanted to admit I was reinforcing. I thought that my manhood rested in the love of the game. I’m realizing now that the cost has been my humanity.
I’m saying all of this because the Super Bowl is tomorrow. Because the Patriots are wrapped around one of the biggest scandals in sports history. We will likely be sitting down ten years from now at barbershops still talking about “deflategate” , and loom it over the Pat’s legacy. I wish I could say the same anger would linger over Ray Rice for beating his wife, Jamies Winston for raping a girl, and Ben Roethlisberger for the same crime–but it won’t. People’s love for the game is too strong to be tainted with having to value women’s bodies at the expense of questioning a game we love, of institutions we envy, the game we have grown to embrace, and which has become so interwoven with our identities as Americans.
So I won’t be watching the Super Bowl, and until I can see the NFL, and the rest of football as an institution that values women the same way it values profit, and instills men with the right values, I will continue to not watch the game all together. Everyone has their own moral compass that guides and directs them, this is mine, and I think it’d be really hard to tell me I’m doing the wrong thing. This isn’t about convincing others to stop watching a game they love. This is asking others to question the game, and demand it arise to the standard we want it to be–because we want our love to be pure. This is about my own journey as a man. This is about sleeping at night, and being one with the beliefts I hold true to me. No love is worth upholding inequality, or prolonging my own salvation.
When you love someone with all your heart, you wish them the best, as well as yourself. I still love the game, but maybe that is the point. Maybe my passion for football and respect for women are not mutually exclusive, but whose fates in my life are intertwined together. Maybe me and football, like a failed love affair with someone you long for, are just at different places in our lives right now. Just different paths–different journeys–only to hopefully end up at the same destination, where we can be together again.