This season, I took a complete break from watching the National Football League and missed the Super Bowl game entirely. While the coup de grace was the exiling of quarterback Colin Kaepernick by the NFL owners, this break has been coming for a while.
In 2013, when it was announced that Heisman Trophy winner and former Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos player Tony Dorsett had been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy – a brain disease afflicting many former football players – I took it very personally.
Like a friend
Dorsett and I are the same age and there were ways that I felt as if we were old friends, despite never having met. Watching him on television year after year, it almost felt as if we had grown up together.
Dorsett’s diagnosis brought home the catastrophic side of football, a side that I had both acknowledged and denied for years. But when it afflicted someone with whom I identified, it became very real. It led me to question my choices. If I had a son, would I have supported or opposed him playing football?
The 2017 NFL season confronted an additional crisis with Kaepernick’s apparent blacklisting as a response to his protests against police brutality and injustice in the Black community. This touched a raw nerve for much of Black America.
Couldn’t take it
My mother, a serious football fan, refused to watch any football this season. I was stunned, though I knew she was a staunch supporter of Kaepernick. As far as she was concerned, enough was enough.
I believe the NFL is standing on the edge of a major crisis. There’s the combination of the injuries and how the NFL has addressed them. There’s the protests into which Donald Trump has intervened. All have raised questions about the future of professional football.
Are football players our so-called gladiators, used up and spit out by a system flowing in money? Are football players and other athletes mindless performers who are not entitled to express their views, even when such an expression does not infringe on the rights of others? These questions confront the owners, the National Football League Players Association (the union that represents the players), and the fans.
And it’s the fans who unfortunately regularly tune out on any of the truly burning issues confronting the players on any given Sunday.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer.