No Super Bowl for Me

For the first time ever, l will not be watching the Super Bowl this Sunday.

After a lifetime of being a football fan, I have lost interest in the game. Football no longer is a fun diversion for me.

I began questioning my love of football in 2010, the year 21-year-old University of Penn football player Owen Thomas died by suicide. Owen was the son of United Church of Christ (UCC) pastors, a clergy couple who were my colleagues when we served together in the Penn Northeast Conference. Owen had recently been named captain of the football team. He had no history of depression or suicide threats.

At autopsy, Owen’s brain showed a mild chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) almost certainly caused by his years of playing football. CTE can only be definitively diagnosed after death.

Common symptoms of CTE include “loss of memory, difficulty controlling impulsive or erratic behavior, impaired judgment, behavioral disturbances including aggression and depression, difficulty with balance, and a gradual onset of dementia.” CTE can be mistakenly diagnosed as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease or ALS.

CTE has been found post-mortem in National Football League (NFL) athletes who died by suicide, including Andre Waters and Terry Long.  The story of Mike Webster, the first NFL player who was diagnosed with CTE, is the subject of the 2015 film Concussion.

My church — the United Church of Christ — has called for a boycott of the Washington Redskins as the NFL continues to defend the use of that racially-demeaning name. In calling for the boycott last June, the Rev. Linda Jaramillo declared, “The use of the term ‘Redskins’ for the team mascot and nickname of the Washington football team is offensive and causes direct harmful effects to the public health and well-being of the Native American population,” she said. [emphasis mine]

We would boycott one team for refusing to change its unhealthy mascot. Meanwhile, the big business of football resists addressing the CTE health crisis that is debilitating and killing its players.

Why aren’t we boycotting football altogether as a hazard to public health and well-being?

Professional football culture perpetually spawns cheating scandals, spouse abuse, sex trafficking, and drug abuse. These football extracurriculars — and the “news” reports of them — pollute our “public health and well-being.”

I wonder if undiagnosed CTE can manifest as football players behaving badly.

With a heart more heavy with sadness than blazing with protest, I have concluded that football no longer is an entertaining game for me.

I am late to the Un-Super-Bowl Party. There is a growing movement of those who see football as outright immoral. Parents are choosing to not let their kids play football. Today’s New York Times wonders “Is It Wrong to Watch Football?

During this Sunday’s Super Bowl, the vast majority of the players on the field will be playing with undiagnosed CTE. Over 100 million fans will cheer big-tackle plays that will hit their favorite players with further unseen brain injuries.

I will find something else to do this Sunday.

No Super Bowl for me.

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