Figuring Out How To Live Your Values (NFL Edition)

I grew up with professional football. Specifically, the 49ers. College football was also occasionally in the picture (we were a USC house), but the focus was on the NFL. It makes sense, considering it is in my blood to a small extent. You see, my grandfather was an NFL field judge. You can even catch a glimpse of him in some of the footage of Super Bowl III that pops up whenever someone feels the need to talk about Joe Namath.

My parents had season tickets up until the team moved out of Candlestick Park. I have so many memories of leaving the house early with a cooler full of food so we could get a parking spot in the giant dirt lot on the hill. It was usually rainy or freezing (or both!), and we’d sit in the car reading the Sunday paper and eating sandwiches before heading inside. Our seats were on the first level but under the second, so we were at least protected from the rain.

This was the era of Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jerry Rice. In later years, it was Alex Smith until he was injured and back-up quarterback Colin Kaepernick was brought in to start, showing he could get things done.

Once I moved to Seattle I was able to deconflict my longtime love for the 49ers with my newly blossoming love for the Seahawks. You can like both teams. I’m proof!

But soon after I moved, I started paying more attention to the things that are not so great about the NFL. First off, it’s obviously a brutal sport. Giant dudes spend hours on end fucking each other up. Then there’s the handling of traumatic brain injuries. The monetization of breast cancer awareness. The racial slur of a team name. The harsh punishment for pot use but the seemingly light punishment for violence against women. For example:

Looking back now, I think this three minute clip from last year is what really got me thinking, but I still wasn’t willing to give up something I enjoyed so much. I loved my Sundays with football. Watching two, sometimes three games a day. Relaxing with a kitten on my lap, doing some project that didn’t require too much brainpower so I could also keep an eye on the game. Ordering in pizza with my partner so we could catch Sunday Night Football.

Those have been my fall Sundays for years.

But not anymore. I’m done. And the thing that got me (and at least one other person) to this point is the fact that the Colin Kaepernick does not have a job. He doesn’t have a job because none of the 32 coaches has the courage to support him in his efforts to bring attention to police violence and racism in our nation.

They’ll support wife beaters and rapists, but if you don’t stand during the national anthem (which, side note, why on earth is this played at non-national team events?), you’ll never work in this — or any — town again.

I see people trying to rationalize it, most recently former 49er Joe Montana, talking about how you don’t want a ‘distraction’ in the locker room. Like sexually assaulting women isn’t a distraction? (I’m looking at you, Pittsburgh quarterback.)

Mr. Kaepernick is good at his job. But he’s not perfect as a QB, and that’s the thing. That’s the insidiousness of it all. These coaches and owners can tell the media — and themselves — that it’s not about his activism, it’s about his skill. They can convince themselves this has nothing to do with their own racism. But that’s not the case, and I think those who are paying attention know it. Take Mr. Kaepernick minus the activism and he’d be a back-up QB on any one of the 32 teams out there.

So I’m out. I’m done with the NFL this season, and maybe for the rest of my life. Of course organizations can change, so I can’t say for certain this will last forever. I’m also not ignorant enough to think that me suddenly having my fall Sundays back is going to make a difference in the NFL’s bottom line.

I’m not going to judge any of you for continuing to love professional football; subscribing to Red Zone or being in a fantasy league isn’t a measure of one’s character. I just need to do this so that I can work on lining up my actions with my values. If I’m going to talk about my support for fighting back against the racist criminal punishment system, then I need to think not just about what I’m doing to support people doing the work, but also about how I spend my time. And right now, the NFL doesn’t get any more of it.

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