The “13th Man” speaks his mind

February 2, 2014

When I began running marathons in 1999, my parents had very different reactions. My dad seemed interested in my competitive success; at the least, he understood my drive to achieve a certain time or ranking. My mom thought that such events were pointless and mainly wanted to know that I got home safely.

As I think about today’s Super Bowl, I find myself feeling a lot like my mother.

Here’s my three-point stance on tackle football:
1. Football puts participants’ brains and bodies at great risk (as discussed previously on this blog and in the excellent Frontline news documentary League of Denial).
2. My interest in people’s long-term health should trump my interest in their feats of athleticism.
3. Watching football is a tacit endorsement of the sport in its current, dangerous form. Therefore, I do not watch football.

I haven’t always been this way. As a child, I was a rabid supporter of the New York Jets. Some might speculate that THIS is the problem — how could a Jets fan experience football at its finest, or avoid disillusionment?

On the contrary, I was thrilled by the tackle-evading halfback Freeman McNeil and the quarterback-hunting linemen Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko (the “New York Sack Exchange”). Watching athletes like these has always been exciting and fun. But how much should they have to sacrifice for the sake of entertaining me? Am I just another Roman spectator enjoying the spectacle of bludgeoned, bloodied gladiators?

Not anymore. When the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos take the field in a few hours, I won’t be watching.

As my mom might say, I just want everyone to make it home safe and sound.


  1. Well that answers my email question about your going to a super bowl party.  I give you credit  going against the football culture out there this year.  I agree with you about it (and how about boxing?) being a dangerous sport but we did tune into the super bowl until Downton Abbey came on.  I just wanted to see the commercials (not as clever and funny as I remember from the last couple years) and the halftime show.  But you’re right not to get drawn into things that you think aren’t right.  I used to like going to zoos but after reading more articles on wild animals I’ve decided they don’t belong in zoos.  I remember liking the San Diego Zoo a lot.  We took you when you when you were a 1-year-old so you can’t remember.  But I mentioned that I didn’t want to go back when that was an option at our UR friends reunion in October.  I was surprised when Peg and Al quickly said they agreed with me.

    • Yes, I’ve sworn off boxing too. I can’t even stomach movies about boxing anymore.

  2. Hi Greg,

    Agreed on the subject of the current version of football.

    Using Russel’s template on religion:

    “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.”

    Bertrand Russell

    “Football (and other violence-based sport) is something left over from the infancy of human culture, it will fade away as we adopt greater and greater appreciation for fundamental human athletic prowess in non-violent forms.”

    Some say that we will never abandon our appreciation for “warrior-like” sports as it is something that is “hard-wired” into us humans- I hope they are wrong.

    Specifically, Easterbrook in his book “The King of Sports” predicts changes in the rules of American Football that, de-facto, represent movement away from fundamental violence. Unfortunately, this direction is being driven by capitalism, not morality. The two basic rule changes he sees are no kick-offs and all linemen (and perhaps all players) must be in a standing position with hands on hips as the ball is hiked to begin play. Here is an NPR conversation with him on the subject:


    • Robert, thanks for the link. I have no idea where football is headed as a sport, but I do like Easterbrook’s idea that the president (Obama or a successor) could take control of this issue, as Teddy Roosevelt apparently did a century ago.

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