I’ll admit it. I’m a football hypocrite.
How many of you are? And how many of you, like me, have wondered what it would take for you to change?
I cringe at the violent hits, especially those aimed at or caused by heads, without losing interest in the logos on the side of the helmets.
I note the increasing number of players who retire to save their brains, yet save my weekly fascination for the performances of the players who risk their brains for my entertainment.
Jerry Seinfeld famously said that in sports we root for laundry.
With the NFL, it’s usually dirty laundry.
Let’s admit it: This is wrong. This is a blood sport in which you can’t always see the blood.
But I’ll watch this season, even when my job does not require me to. And I’ll write about games in which someone’s brain is severely damaged without making much of the injury, because familiarity breeds apathy.
There is at least one righteous soul among us. ESPN football analyst Ed Cunningham recently resigned, saying, “I can no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot. … I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain.”
It is demonstrably not. And the football leagues we care most about are doing little about it.
The NFL season begins on Thursday night with a compelling match-up, as the Kansas City Chiefs play the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass. America’s dominant sport likely will be a financial success again this season, which will end in U.S. Bank Stadium in Super Bowl LII, or, as I will call it, The Fleece Bowl.
While the NFL will continue to print money, the league will also joust with its continuing and increasing problems. The more we learn, the more we know that NFL is tough on the brain, whether because of its illogic or its cynicism.
Every year scientists reveal in greater detail what football does to cerebellums, and in recent years Roger Goodell’s leadership has added cognitive dissonance to the game’s woes.
The NFL has brought its investigation into the brain injury commonly referred to as CTE in-house, and is focusing the study on the brains of horse jockeys, according to ESPN.com reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru.
Sadly, that is not a joke. Not about the part that the NFL, which hid evidence of brain injuries from its players for years, is policing itself, nor the fact that few jockeys have gotten targeted by Harrison Smith while running a route across the middle.
What the NFL has taught us lately, and forever, is that it does not care about the health of its players and will use its power and money to suppress injury information and fight the Players Association.
College football may be even worse in this regard because the players don’t even get paid up front. They are expected to perform and perhaps suffer for classes, meals and textbooks.
The Fainaru Brothers are the bane of the NFL, because they machete through the league’s lies and obfuscation.
For all of its cutbacks, the network deserves credit for maintaining some of its top reporters, such as the Fainarus, Bob Ley and T.J. Quinn.
Read straight reportage from investigative journalists, and you start thinking of the NFL as Big Tobacco. They want to preserve profits and keep their products’ evils away from kids, because they need kids for their future endeavors.
I’ve debated with football players for years over the nature of their sport. Matt Birk has argued that football’s benefits — character-building, teamwork, the development of toughness — outweigh its risks.
I admire the toughness of football players, but I’m not sure I’d take the average NFL player over Jordan Spieth, Mikko Koivu, Karl-Anthony Towns or Byron Buxton when it comes to sporting character. There are ways of learning life lessons without damaging your life.
So, I’m a hypocrite. I can’t wait for the Vikings’ opener. If football is a disease, I’m avoiding the cure.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org