This week on Twitter, I witnessed an ESPN staffer (troll?) take on the entire fanbase of the WWE. The staffer continually made fun of the fact that it’s “fake” (it’s scripted; not fake) and even took it so far as to joke about a WWE’s wrestler’s child. This trolling and bigoted mindset led me to self-evaluate my own behavior. We’ve seen new sports like eSports receive hatred seemingly out of nowhere mostly due to being new, disruptive, and confusing. Just because a sport does not connect with you, or that you don’t understand it, that does not justify spewing hate about it. With that said, it led to me to re-evaluate my own “hatred” for the NFL.
American Football has always been a weird sport for me. I never hated it, per se. My experience with the sport obviously started in the backyard like most American children. From there, my time in JFL was short lived. True story here. My new helmet was too tight and I was unable to remove it, which led to a panic attack. I remember asking if I could play without a helmet: obviously not at the time, but that idea of removing helmets in football has re-circulated. Sharing a high school locker room and weight room with football players during the late 90s-early 00s steroid era was also an experience that shaped my non-liking of the sport. The mentality, the physicality, the inebriation of a tailgate: just not my style.
But that’s OK.
In college, at a D3 school, the football parties had more in attendance than the actual football games. My Exercise Science classes were dominated by football players. In one class, in a group with two other football players, I wrote a 90-page business plan by myself over a semester because they were in season and just couldn’t help out much.
But that’s OK.
The NFL’s recent behavior surrounding players’ health is a more recent reason that fueled my hatred. It is validated; more on that in a bit. The recent issue is centered around the concussion controversy and it is a real problem. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a real concern and does present some issues to participants of the sport.
But that’s OK.
The NFL will figure the CTE issue out. They have the money, resources, and ability to get past this. The Player’s Association is strong and you have to have faith that they will do what’s best for the players. These are adults, after all, getting paid a high salary for their craft that comes with a high risk.
Please notice that I’m dropping my hatred for the NFL here, not American Football entirely. The mentality, the physicality, the inebriation of a tailgate, the CTE, the PEDs, are all fine…. at the professional level. My hatred will continue for the sport for exposing our youth to that previous list.
UCLA’s QB Josh Rosen is right. CTE is acceptable for some, when you are getting paid millions of dollars. To quote Rosen on CTE, “if all you got was a scholarship, that’s [expletive] up.” The risk of concussions is not limited to professional sport.
CTE happens to players in Pop Warner. In the developing brain of a child.
It happens to the brain of an emerging adult in high school that is getting ready to start their adult life.
It happens to the college senior at a D3 school who is just about to start his internship for his career.
Each of these athletes will not be making millions of dollars playing the sport. How many D3 and D2 football players are there? How many players go through Pop Warner? Millions?
This is where my hatred for the sport will continue. We have to be able to separate professional sports from interscholastic and intercollegiate and treat them accordingly. America is football obsessed and it also has a mental health issue. With more research on CTE, youth football, the developing brain, connections are starting to be made.
The NFL also has to understand that their behavior, leadership, and management of players does trickle down to our youth levels. They have the ability to lead and fix this issue. Change is hard for some, but it is necessary. Until that change comes, what can you do?
That’s one reason why I’m dropping the hate and embracing the NFL. My faith in man tells me that the issue will be corrected. It may change the game, and it may take time, but the game will live on. Until then, I’m going to sit back and enjoy this current style of American Football. The game already is played differently than generations past. The sport is already evolving. The NFL, interscholastic, and intercollegiate football just need to form or force that evolution into a safer product. It will happen. You either adapt or die as a sport.
My second reason for my “No Hate, Love the NFL” campaign is: MADDEN 17. You could find me in high school and college playing NCAA EA Football or Madden. I was a huge fan of the games! I even had Troy Aikman’s Football as a youth.
Note the eerie inclusion of Aikman’s brain in the ad:
I just purchased the new Madden 17 and I love it. It has been probably 10 years since I bought a football video game.
My third reason for embracing the NFL is the social aspect.
- Buffalo Wild Wings on a Sunday afternoon.
- My local two-league, 24-person fantasy league with newly added relegation features.
- A Chicago Bears season ticket connection.
- Thursday Night Football
The last reason is the technology. As a sport scientist, I find the NFL’s unique technological applications within the game interesting. Spectator technology using VR, advanced stats on the XBOX One App, Zebra wearable technology, Microsoft Surface infusion on the sidelines, etc. They are using technology that is different. These are all examples that I have used in class. Cutting edge stuff.
For me, American Football has always been different. It’s a different organization than my beloved NBA. It is faster paced and more physical than what the MLB offers. The culture, fans, and stadium environment are all different.
That doesn’t make it wrong.
That potentially is its greatness. I attended my first game at Soldier Field in Chicago last month. It was different. It was a new experience. It was fun.
My mindset has changed and with that, I hope your mindset about other sports that you deem different does as well. Try it.
Go attend a MLS game. Get up early on a Sunday morning and watch the English Premier League.
Go to a live eSport event (if you can find a ticket).
Download the F1 app and follow this weekend’s race. (the app is amazing!!!!!)
Embrace your differences within the sporting world. You may be missing out on something highly enjoyable. So with American Football this year, I’ll be rebuilding my interest in the NFL while keeping a concerned eye on the future for the sport at the interscholastic and intercollegiate levels.
Sit back and enjoy football in its current form of American Football. Be a fan. Be this guy:
Because you may not be able to for very much longer.