There is a chill in the morning air. The leaves are turning color. And the Vikings are off to a dismal 1-3 start in the National Football League. It must be fall in Minnesota!
Football is indelibly connected with my fall experience. Even before I was in high school, my dad would let me tag along with him to Friday night football games under the lights. Sometimes I would find a friend from school to sit with, but more often than not, I would just sit with my dad and his buddies, soaking up knowledge about efficient offense and learning creative ways to curse the blindness of the referees. In high school, I still went to every football game with my dad, but I parted ways with him at the gate and made my way to the student section, proudly donning my letter jacket once I earned it and paying more attention to the game than to the social interactions going on around me. I liked being part of a crowd and feeling like my encouraging cheers mattered to Tim from chemistry and George from study hall as they marched down the field.
Football is also oddly connected to church-going, as both are important things that happen on Sundays in the fall. During football season, each Sunday my family went to mass, ate brunch out somewhere, and then snuggled up on the couch to watch the Minnesota Vikings and whoever else happened to be playing. In an effort to win approval from my dad, I came up with questions that showcased my knowledge of the game, such as, “The Vikings will go up by three after this field goal, right dad?” When I got married to a football fan, Sundays continued to look the same each fall: church, food, football (and usually more food!).
Until recently, I never thought much about going to football games on Friday nights and watching games on Sunday afternoons; it just seemed like what people do in the fall. But now that I have two sons, I have begun to think about watching football a bit differently. I really do not want my sons to play football, not with everything we are learning and the so much more we do not yet know about how football injuries, particularly brain injuries, cause football players to grow old before their time. Even former star Kurt Warner has expressed his preference that his sons not play football because of the size of players and the violence of the game.* And if I do not want my sons to play football, doesn’t that make me a hypocrite for watching football each Sunday, supporting a game in which other people’s sons are getting hurt?
This football dilemma is a very real one right now in my household. Each week, I have conflicting emotions about turning on the game at noon. I am becoming more aware that the choices we make about what counts as entertainment are, in fact, choices with ethical consequences. Certainly, when there are bounties on certain football players’ heads and opposing teams hit them hard in order to injure them, I am not as responsible for the injury as the player who caused it. But if I watch football games, I implicitly am part of a game, a system, in which people are paid to hit each other and to hit each other hard. Without an audience there would be no football because it would cease to be a multi-billion dollar industry. I think I have to admit that I have a little bit of the football players’ blood (and brain injuries) on my hands.
I want to be clear that my point here is not to demonize football and football fans per se. On one level, I love football and cherish all the memories that are tied up with cradling a cup of hot cocoa as the clock ticks down and jumping up off the couch as the impossible hail Mary pass is caught. But I do think that it is worth taking a step back now and again to think about what we choose to consume for entertainment. What television shows and movies do we watch? What music do we listen to? These are decisions that do matter and can have an impact on the lives of other people in our world.
Think about what “counts” as entertainment for you. Why is it enjoyable for you? Can you imagine any negative consequences, to you or to others, that come with this form of entertainment?