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A 'Reluctant Manifesto' Against Watching Football

Sharona Jacobs
Steve Almond is the author of Against Football: A Reluctant Manifesto.

In just a couple of days from now the pennant chases of Major League Baseball will lose some of their luster, no matter how close the jockeying is. Because for a certain kind of sports fan, baseball is less America’s pastime than a way to pass time before football season begins.

The National Football League is the unquestioned dominant pro sports league in America, and the Superbowl might as well be declared a national holiday for the millions who watch, host or attend parties, and place bets on everything from the coin toss to the final point spread.

It’s also, as our guest contends, a dangerous, morally corrupt, corporate-driven leviathan that treats its workers like chattel and sees its fans as little more than walking ATM machines.

Steve Almond is the author of Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto.

Almond said he’s a life-long Oakland Raiders fan and for many years, whether the team won or lost was an emotional centerpiece of his life, before he decided to step back and examine the sport, and he found many problems, from violence to head injuries. He cited an NFL study that said football players were 19 times more likely than the rest of the population to develop dementia.

Almond said he came to a realization: “Wait a second, I’m consuming as entertainment a game whose byproduct inevitably is brain damage. And then I thought about ... the college and high school game. What’s the purpose of our educational system in this country – a system that is largely subsidized by the taxpayers – what is the intent that we have when we set up a high school or college? It is to educate our young men and women to America’s future,” Almond said. “And if you can explain to me how watching football and participating in football, which clearly diminishes brain function, adds to the educational mission, I’ll give up my argument.”

And he highlighted the danger for high school players, comparing every single hit to a small auto accident inside the player’s helmet, based on research done by Purdue University.

“They put sensors in 24 different football players’ helmets, and they wanted to see what the effect of concussions was, so they set up a control group, a bunch of kids who had never gotten a concussion playing football, and guess what they found: diminished brain function,” Almond said. He said by the end of the season some of those players’ frontal lobes were no longer showing any brain function, and those were the players who had never gotten a concussion before.

Almond’s book also looks at the financial impact of the NFL on cities that court teams by building expensive stadiums with public dollars.

So what does Almond want fans to do? He wants them to take charge and demand changes from the NFL. He says fans need to be asking their local teams to have a concussion protocol, a weight limit, and to ask that educational resources not be diverted to football.

For his part, Almond has stopped watching football.

“I’m not going to say that it was easy for me to completely ignore the first pre-season, but I ignored it. I didn’t watch a single clip,” he said. But if the Raiders somehow made it to the Superbowl?

“I don’t know. I hope I wouldn’t watch that game. I hope I would view that as an opportunity for me to live up to my word.”

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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