It seems weird to not be focusing on the Super Bowl today. Just like it’s seemed weird all season to not be focused on the NFL. At all. If you know me in real life, you know that I am a football fan. It was hard not to be, growing up in my house, football was just something that WAS. It was Sunday afternoons, and the occasional Monday night, when my dad was not working. It was CFL and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and NFL and the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. It was NCAA football and Notre Dame and Michigan and…well hell, any other NCAA team, really. It was McMaster’s Marauders and the occasional high school game. It was football. And my family was INTO it.
A bit of background. My dad played football. In the 1950s as a young man, he was something of a local star. He played for the Tiger-Cat “Bs” – kind of a farm team for the big league – and he excelled. You can find articles about him and his team, and you can see photos of him in action in the Spectator. Eventually he was drafted by the pros, but circumstances led to him forgoing a career as a professional ball player in favour of a steady job at Stelco and a working class Hamilton life. The love for the game remained, of course, and as I mentioned above, growing up with that passion, it was hard not to develop my own love for the game my dad played.
The great thing about watching the game with my dad is that he was so incredibly knowledgeable. Not about stats or anything like that, but having played the game for so long, he knew it inside out. He knew, innately, the plays a QB was going to run. He would scan the way the offense lined up and would know exactly what was going down. And he was so patient with me as he explained rules time and again, until I figured them out. And when I would shout “Ugggh whyyyy did they do that?!?” about a particularly ugly play, he would calmly say “Just watch…” because he was, like the team itself, already thinking 2 or 3 plays ahead. And he was always right.
When I think of my dad, when I remember him and our time together, I remember football, and how it was such a huge, integral part of our relationship. Even on my wedding day we had the Buffalo-Miami game on. The photographer arrived at our house, tried to turn off the TV to get us to focus on the pictures, realized it was an uphill battle, so as well as the traditional bridal pics, decided to take some shots of my dad and I, on the sofa, keeping tabs on the game. Priorities, man.
So I miss it, the NFL. I miss the familiarity of the Sunday afternoon games, and my dad’s legacy. I miss yelling at the screen like he did, and imitating his favourite insults, his catch phrases. But I can no longer, in good conscience, support a league that has such utter disregard for human – particularly women’s – lives.
For a few years, I pretended that it didn’t affect my love for the league. I pretended that there were just a few bad apples. When Ben Roethlisberger was accused – twice – of rape, I convinced myself that because I’m not a Steelers fan, it was ok to still watch the game. When Brett Favre got off with a wrist-slap (barely) for harassing and texting dick pics to a reporter (seriously dude, how OLD are you??), I shook my head in annoyance but continued to support the league. I was still convinced that it was just a few idiots, doing stupid things. Those guys are assholes, but the game is still fine! I can separate the sport from the assholes. I don’t even LIKE those guys, those teams.
There were other “isolated” incidents as well and I looked the other way. Because I like football. But when Ray Rice was shown on video punching his fiancee in the face so hard that he knocked her unconscious and was then seen dragging her out of an elevator, and then the league gave him a 2 game – a TWO GAME – suspension* while another player got a 16 game suspension for testing positive for marijuana? Oh hell, no. This is a systemic problem, this is not a few bad apples. This is a league that doesn’t care about women. This is an old boys club, and without HUGE changes, it always will be.
There’s not a lot, as just one person, that I can do. That any of us can do. But what I can do is stop giving the league my time, and my money. I can choose to eliminate the NFL from my life, and I can explain my reasons for boycotting the NFL to anyone who asks. I can stop wearing my NY Jets toque. I can give up my Sunday ritual of football games, our annual tradition of having a Super Bowl party. I can do these things in protest. And I did.
Was it hard? Yes. Was it weird to not have the TV on Sunday afternoons and today especially? Hell yes. But to me, it was important. It was my small way of saying that I believe these women, that their safety is more important to me than the careers of the men who hit them, the men who threatened them.
So that is my position currently. Would I ever go back to supporting the NFL? Sure. But there has to be a lot that changes in order for that to happen. And when it comes to an organization like the NFL, with all the cover-ups, all the corruption, the enabling and condoning of harassment, you know it’s all about the money. And that part? Is actually kind of sad. Because while there are very rich, very entitled men doing all sorts of terrible things to their wives, partners, children, random strangers…there is another whole aspect to this awful situation, that the NFL doesn’t want to talk about. Some of their best are suffering horribly. And the league doesn’t seem to care. Because I am not an excellent writer, I am going to link to this article by excellent writer Kate Harding. The first time I read this article I nearly sprained my neck from vigorously nodding my head throughout the whole thing. In fact, I probably could have just linked to this article instead of even writing this whole damn disjointed post, but I have things to say. I may not say them as well, but they are still my things to say.
And guys? I still love football. And I’ll still watch the games of the leagues that (so far) haven’t disappointed me. And I’ll think of my dad, and I wonder what he would think of the NFL if he were alive. Actually, I know what he’d think. He’d be as pissed off as I am. And I think he’d probably have joined me in my boycott of a league that only cares about lining the pockets of its executives. Because after all, on Sundays in the winter? There’s always golf.
*I know that they changed the suspension but the fact that it originally was 2 games remains one of the most disgusting parts of this whole thing.