My Lonely Boycott of Sports

football money

DISCLAIMER: This editorial isn’t intended to disparage those who like sports.  Sports encourage physical well-being and can build character in young people.  The criticisms here are directed at those who make money from big-name sports as entertainment.  Not the fans.  But if you’re sensitive to my opinions, leave a comment, and I’ll dig out my old boxing gloves.

***

John Lennon, in his song “Working Class Hero,” rails against nebulous power elites for keeping the rest of us “doped with religion and sex and TV.”  He could have also included “sports.”

Until recently I was a fairly big sports fan.  I liked athletic competition (and still do).  I admired the skill required to pinpoint a receiver forty yards downfield, or smack a 95 mph fastball over the fence, or nail a jump shot over outstretched arms at the buzzer.  When my boy was small, I enjoyed attending trading card conventions with him, and watching our favorite teams on TV.  I bought the merchandise (hats, jerseys, flags… you name it).  I was a cheerful little sports consumer.

But over time I became more jaded.  Some might say “Well, you shouldn’t have picked Cleveland teams.”  Or “For heaven’s sake, why did you choose Penn State over Ohio State??”  Honestly though, picking losing pro teams and a shattered college team isn’t why, on weekend afternoons, I now go to the art museum or prune my azaleas.

These are the reasons:

1. Stupid TV commercials.  They’re dumb everywhere these days, but they’re especially dumb during sports broadcasts.  Maybe because advertisers know that most sports viewers are men, and men are dumber than women.  floSo if it’s not “The all-new this” or “The all-new that” (usually referring to a car or TV sitcom… these things are never “half-new”), it’s a pig squealing “Wheeee!!” from a car window, or a talking gecko, or Flo, or Peyton “I’ll sell anything!” Manning, or some other redundant image trying to dig into my wallet.

2. The Super Bowl.  This orgy of capitalism might be a good excuse for a party in dreary February, but the action on the field is only incidental to the media frenzy and swirling commercialism.  Every piece of this bombastic event is sold to the highest bidder: pre-game show, trophy presentation, televised replays, touchdowns, field goals, and, of course, the atrocious halftime extravaganzas.  beerIt’s gotten so bad, even some advertisers are complaining about the gluttony.  And the alcohol and junk food emphasis should require a public health warning.  My wife looks forward to the “funniest Super Bowl commercial.”  I look forward to the day when Western civilization is no longer in decline.

3. League of Denial.  The National Football League recently settled out of court with ex-NFL players, who sued the league for ignoring the seriousness of concussive injuries.  As detailed in the book LEAGUE OF DENIAL: THE NFL, CONCUSSIONS AND THE BATTLE FOR TRUTH, the NFL went as far as hiring its own dubious “experts” to debunk the reality of serious brain trauma caused by repetitive head impact.mike webster  With the settlement, Commissioner Roger Goodell and company are betting their troubles will disappear.  But unless all helmet contact is outlawed, and the league actually gets serious about fines and suspensions, there will be more Mike Websters and Junior Seaus.  In the meantime, the NFL hopes fans suffer collective amnesia on this subject, and asks… “Are you ready for some FOOTBALL?!!”

4. Steroid use.  All I can say about this is that baseball records and statistics used to have meaning.steroids3

5. Ex-jocks in the broadcast booth.  This is a disease that’s spreading rapidly.  Who would have thought I’d yearn for Howard Cosell?  Howard would be crestfallen at the surfeit of grammatically bemused rhetoricians today (and he’d use those exact words).  What’s worse than bad English are the endless clichés like “He’s a class act.”  The underlying meaning of “He’s a class act” is that the individual mentioned is an exception, so his peers must therefore be without class.  So the “class act” is the football player who doesn’t thump his chest after a tackle, or gyrate in the end zone after a touchdown.jocks  Maybe it’s the baseball player who graciously agrees to forego a raise in his multi-million-dollar contract to stay with the same team.  Perhaps it’s the team owner who at the last minute decides – with feigned humility – to keep his asset (sports team) in the same city.  Or any coach or athlete who flaunts his Christian faith.  According to ex-jocks-in-the-broadcast-booth, these are all examples of “class acts.”

6. NCAA hypocrisy.  College sports were once a refuge from the corruptness of the professionals.  That was yesterday.  Today, college football and basketball are swimming in money.  So it’s ok for the NCAA to stuff its athletes into Final Four TV ads, while simultaneously penalizing a college coach (the late Rick Majerus) for buying a player a meal after the player’s dad died.  Or as sportswriter Frank Deford puts it, “peddling sanctimonious claptrap about how it really cares about academics” when its real concern is revenue.  More recently, there’s the controversy over the NCAA’s spider web of lawsuits with video gaming company EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Company, after uniting with them to profiteer from student-athletes’ likenesses.ncaa  The NCAA also violated its own rules by sanctioning Penn State University without conducting an investigation (the Freeh report was outside of the NCAA), and for disallowing appeal.  What happened in Happy Valley was tragic beyond belief.  But it seems to me the NCAA can just make and break rules whenever it sees fit (and when it can get away with it).

***

I’ve talked to others who agree with me on the above.  And a few have also taken the bold step of boycotting.  Problem is, everything seems to suddenly be forgiven and forgotten when your favorite team wins four games in a row (I wouldn’t know about this, though).

But lest you think I spend all my time watching “Antiques Roadshow” reruns, I haven’t completely sworn off televised sports.  I’ll probably tune in the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day.  And I love watching tennis.  I also find televised golf very relaxing (despite having to endure hearing Tiger Woods’s name every two minutes – even when he’s not in the tournament).  I may even start following ice hockey or soccer.  There may be few authentic class acts sprinkled in those sports.  But I first need to examine the commercials, and find out how many ex-jocks are in the broadcast booth.

end zone dance

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6 thoughts on “My Lonely Boycott of Sports

  1. Pete, no boxing gloves here (boxing is too brutal), but I’ll admit I’m at a slight loss at understanding the boycotting-degree of your disgust.

    I’ll basically restrict my discussion to football, because that’s pretty much all I watch and also because I don’t see your reasoning holding up well against the NBA, PGA, or ATP.

    Now, you clearly have some issues with the BS that surrounds “televised” sports, not the sport(s) itself. Perhaps you view them as inseparably linked, whereas I consciously see them as distinct areas. I choose to ignore, tune out, mute the commercials, and I read a book / Internet, etc. instead of listening to Howie Long, Terry Baldshaw, and Jimmie Johnson drawl on with their chippy, good-old-boy blithering at half time and pregame. Which brings up a point:

    The ex-jocks you mention are not in the broadcast booth at all, but rather at the pundit’s roundtable during halftime. Those are the cliché-makers who don’t merit the game-time commentating. Basically, they’re just shills for the network and their sponsors. So don’t watch.

    On the other hand, I really like Aikman and Collingsworth and other ex-jocks in the broadcast booth. Not only are they very good commentators (with the exception of Gruden), but they bring an understanding and analysis to the game that fools like Cosell never could.

    Regarding the League of Denial thing:
    It’s become evident that the NFL is taking the concussion and injury issue very seriously, and have been doing so for some time. There will likely be more settlements and suits so it is in their best interest to do so. The new rules regarding contact have been put in place, players have been / are being made aware of the issues, and better equipment is always in the works. Hence, boycotting the NFL for past sins is like boycotting gassing up at Exxon because of the Exxon Valdez debacle. Then again, I honestly can’t imagine a top-tier football player turning down a multi-million dollar contract because doctors say he “might” have brain issues twenty years after he retires.

    “League of Denial” and a lot of the controversy around it like to turn and point a finger at Pop Warner and High School Football, suggesting that mothers and fathers would never let their children play if they knew of the risk. And yet nearly every kid I knew growing up was involved with football. We even played tackle with crappy equipment and had our bells rung many times. I played in the youth groups, Junior High, and throughout most of High School. I admit that I’m a bit of a dumbshit and a scatter-brain at times, but I certainly don’t have chronic traumatic encephalopathy! In fact, wouldn’t there be an evident, nationwide crisis in America if youth football were so dangerous? Of course, I may be wrong here, but I do suspect this tactic of focusing on youth is more in the line of propaganda than pious concern.

    Regardless, current player awareness of the risks negates any righteous indignation by those same participants in the future. They now know the risks and will sit at the tables they set. And football sure isn’t going away anytime soon. Everyone has known for decades that boxing is more brutal and punishing to the noggin than incidental football contact, and yet Manny Pacquiao is still filling seats. So basically, I choose not to boycott because the warriors choose to do battle, be it for fame, money, the glory of victory, or just for the fun of it, which most NFL players claim is the motivating factor in their profession.

    Lastly, sporting events are great in that they are not only exciting, but they also bring family and friends together in an atmosphere of camaraderie and excitement. After all, my fondest memories are of us watching football on Thanksgiving Day with Dad and maybe Jim or Paul on a visit. Perhaps that’s one reason your boycott seems so lonely, eh?

    Anyway, nice to have something to “chat” about. Miss you and look forward to more of your excellent bloggation.

    PS: Soccer will always suck.

    Cheers!

    • Rich,

      Thanks for commenting. Nothing like criticizing the sacred cow of American football to stir debate, as evidenced by your retort!

      Much of this is my opinion and intended to be lighthearted. So I won’t get into parsing the difference between broadcast booth versus roundtable pundit. My criticism was directed at some broadcasters’ delivery, not their lack of “understanding and analysis” of football.

      Other stuff here is serious, such as steroid use, and concussions in football. Players will play, regardless of the risks of long-term damage from concussion. Their choosing to make millions and risk long-term brain injury is irrelevant. The book “League of Denial” and the accompanying Frontline documentary concern the league’s cover-up and its debunking of science that indicates a correlation between repetitive head impact and permanent brain damage. The science on this is recent. That’s why there’s no “nationwide crisis” – yet. Maybe there never will be. But if the medical studies are valid, like they seem to be judging from the neurosurgeons profiled, then it’s irrelevant whether or not you and I played tackle football as kids but don’t currently suffer severe depression (fortunately). Your defense of the NFL is like a smoker’s defense of R.J. Reynolds because that smoker’s tobacco use hasn’t yet caused lung cancer. Yes, not every smoker gets cancer. But it’s a medical fact that tobacco is carcinogenic. Similarly, medical studies increasingly reveal that long-term head impact from football can cause severe brain damage. For years the NFL denied this. Go read the book I mentioned.

      I agree that football won’t go away anytime soon. But if I could go back, I’d be a little firmer that Nick stick with soccer instead of playing football. And I don’t agree with you that “soccer will always suck.” I’m not sure why you said this. Is it because you view soccer as a threat to American football?

      And what’s wrong with continuing to boycott Exxon-Mobil based on past sins? If I don’t want them to get my cash based on their “past sins” (or current sins), they won’t get it. Same with the NFL. It’s a multi-billion dollar business, and my not buying their product won’t mean a hill of beans. I know I’m idealistic to an extreme, but I get angry when I see goliaths like the NFL trampling on the truth (especially when public health, e.g. Pop Warner football, is concerned).

      Lastly, I too have fond memories of watching football with the family. Like I said in my post, I still watch football on Thanksgiving, or with Nick (we’re big UCF fans), and I’ll always enjoy the camaraderie of friends and family around a game. My “boycott” (again, a lighthearted thing) is not foolproof. I’ve just chosen to turn off the spigot more than most.

      Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, and Go Lions!!

  2. Hey Pete,

    Just so you don’t get the wrong impression, I’m retorting simply for the sake of engaging in a fun correspondence during my lunch break, and I do understand the “lighthearted” nature of your post. Consider it an exercise in manufactured debate. Perhaps my own dearth of smiley faces ☺☺☺☺☺☺☺and humorous quips have led you to believe I’m overly concerned about your semi-serious grudge. Not so. Then again, exactly how lighthearted is your “boycott?” Was it entirely a joke with you eagerly planning on watching pig pelts fly across the gridiron all afternoon on Turkey Day? Come on now . . . be honest!

    Anyway, a couple of my points you might be misunderstanding. I wasn’t giving a defense of the NFL. If they were intentionally misleading players about head trauma, as it appears they were, then shame on them. Shame-shame-shame! Certainly with the settlements and current law suits in the works, they’re starting to get their just deserts, and I foresee some righteous “mea culpas” on the horizon. But that’s one reason I don’t think a personal boycott of the whole sport, one that lessons my quality of life, is in any way appropriate or necessary (assuming anyone would be serious about that).

    Another is because I make a distinction between the NFL as an owners’ association—a handful of bigwigs intent on making money through attendance and paraphernalia—and that of the sport itself, as represented by the event and all the players, coaches, and staff involved. I may despise big corrupt bankers with shady intentions, but that doesn’t mean I don’t support the idea of banking and all those whom the industry employs. Play some Kant: if everyone in America acted according to the boycott premise, what would be the result? The players and everyone else who is not an owner would be out of a job (and the owners would probably still be rich).

    I say . . . better to boycott purchasing tickets, attending the games, or buying franchise-related products. Because THAT’S their product, not the game. Why punish myself when I can actually hit the real culprits in the wallet, albeit for a nano-fraction of a cent?

    As for R. J. Reynolds, they went far beyond simply misinforming smokers about tobacco. They were making it as addictive as possible and pushing a dangerous drug on the youngest possible age groups; targeting non-smoking youths. The NFL has never pushed kids to strap on helmets and smack their heads against each other. And I don’t recall R. J. ever doing a 180° turn by making a concerted effort to protect the health of smokers, trying to get them to cut down on how many cigs they smoke a day, or becoming fully involved by recognizing and informing about the dangers. Thus, I really don’t think the Reynolds comparison is a valid one.

    Lastly, my soccer comment was a joke, although I do find televised soccer almost as boring as badminton (which is more common on the sports channels here than the former).

    Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy watching Dallas stomp the Raiders. I know I will!

    Cheers!!

  3. Rich, this could go on and on. Let’s just put it to bed. A lot of my post was tongue-in-cheek, only semi-serious. But it may have appeared too harsh. And your defense of football has some validity. But I think you’re also way too soft on the commissioner and owners (what I refer to as the “NFL”). I know football means a lot to you, especially living in Taiwan.

    I did see parts of the Lions and Cowboys games, and enjoyed them. Take care, and love to all!

  4. Pete, I share your disdain of college sports. As an undergrad at Pitt on the GI Bill, I saw more than a few football players skate through the semesters while I busted my ass. Athletic scholarships are but a form of compensation to pre-professional athletes who can perform academic charade theater on the side.

    • Yeah, the college athletic scholarship system is whole different issue. I didn’t mention it because I figured I’d get enough negative feedback as it was! (and I did) You’re right, it’s unfair to students on the GI Bill, and high school grads who’ve excelled academically but not athletically. It always seems to come down to money, which I guess was an underlying theme of the whole article. Football and basketball stars bring wins, which bring money and prestige to the universities. I don’t blame the kids. Who’s gonna turn down a free education, a cakewalk through classes, and a possible career in the pros? But a lot of them (not all) just aren’t mature enough to handle it. Athletic scholarships give underprivileged kids opportunities they otherwise might not have, but that’s the only advantage I can see. I think Ivy League schools are the only ones who don’t offer athletic scholarships.

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