Should We Be Watching Football?

When I read this Buzzfeed article about Michael Sam being cut from the Rams earlier this week, my guilt reached meltdown proportions. Although Oshinsky has a few issues with the logical structure of his core argument, namely the attempted implications of the number of jobs available in the NFL (the job pool is actually minuscule compared to the number of people interested), he makes some convincing and concerning points about the policies, mentality, and priorities of the NFL. And he pointedly calls for us concerned fans to stop watching games and stop playing fantasy football.

It was not the first time I’ve felt a compelling urge to renounce my football-loving ways, but it may have been the strongest yet. Even after the story took a surprising and glorious turn, and Michael Sam was signed to the Dallas Cowboys’ practice team (having grown up a Cowboys fan by default and having since been increasingly repulsed by their ludicrous swagger and continual mismanagement and squandering of top talent, I could nearly cry with joy over this move), the NFL’s peculiarly strong suspensions for substance abuse, apparent tolerance of violence, and poor responsiveness to player safety remain deplorable.

Still, in light of all of this, I’ve been feeling like giving up on the sport of football isn’t the right decision. After all, Michael Sam, a man who is likely (although I haven’t asked him) highly concerned about the NFL’s outlook on gay players as well as gender roles at large, is now employed by the organization. Of his being with the Cowboys now and the surprising lack of interest from other teams, Sam has said, “It was a little longer than I expected, but you know what, I’m here now, and that’s all that matters.” I’m not willing to make any bold claims or draw any lines in the sand, and if an individual wants to renounce the NFL, I would understand why and unquestionably support that choice. But the question remains in my mind: is non-participation the best route to change?

I’m still working through my own mental processing of the state of affairs, but increasingly I feel that we need voices that are knowledgeable about the sport and involved with the sport to be vocal advocates for change. Well respected NPR commentator Frank Deford frequently does a good job of using his prime forum to weigh in on important issues. Art, literature, and yes, our sports will always be mirrors of society at large. Although founded on principles of freedom, it took America several hundred years to even began instilling anything that resembled freedom among its peoples. Even a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, the civil rights movement of the 1960s was still necessary, and still today, we struggle against systemic racism in our courts, on our streets, and in our schools. And yet opting out of being American doesn’t seem like the way to win, to affect change. Our principles, our overarching stated goal for equality and freedom give us tools to keep insisting that we make reforms, that we make progress.

If you’re ready to lodge the accusation that maybe this is a rationalization, that I just want to hang onto my precious NFL-viewing, don’t worry, I’ve asked myself the same, and in understanding I’m obviously biased in favor of myself, there’s no way for me to prove that’s not the case. You and I may be right in our thinking. However, I’ve made myself the promise that since I’m participating, since I’m watching, I’ll make it a priority to bring up in conversation with friends the aspects of the NFL that need an overhaul: offensive team nicknames, inadequate response to violent crime, rampant homophobia, objectification of women, degrading systems of trading human players in which they have little agency, and so on. And I’ll again point out that all but the last issue exist socially, not just in the NFL. Most also exist in other facets of culture, such as rock music and hip-hop. The NFL is a reflection of culture. Even if we opt out of football, we don’t get to opt out of society.

I’m on Michael Sam’s team, and Michael Sam is in the NFL. I believe that Sam will play on a team in a game this year, and when he does, I’ll be watching and cheering him on.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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