After her own concussion, Beth Leyba questions whether we want to take part in a game that literally chews people up and spits them out just so that we can be entertained.
“I HATE the Broncos!!!” is a phrase that we laugh about in my family. It was first uttered by my eldest daughter at the tender age of 2. (She’s now 15.) It must be said with a scowl and look of utter disgust, just as she originally said it, in Costco on a Sunday afternoon, as her little eyes took in the games that were flashing on every television screen. It was completely unprompted and spontaneous.
Recently I was at a pizzeria and bar where my two brothers who are musicians were performing. The Broncos were playing in the playoffs the next day (I assumed, from all the hubbub) and the singer they were playing with said something in support of the Broncos or wishing them luck. His words were met with much cheering. That is, except for my solitary and playful “Boooo!”
Some funny commentary between the singer and my older brother ensued:
“Did someone just boo the Broncos?!”
“Yeah, that was probably my sister, but I think she was booing football in general, not just the Broncos.”
I then cupped my hands around my mouth and, with a twinkle in my eye and giggle in my voice, again uttered that fateful phrase that is an inside joke amongst my family members.
Many angry eyes in the audience turned to me, and a man at the next table, in total disgust said, “Then why do you even live in Denver?”
I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought that life without football is meaningless and bleak, and, without replying, I excused myself to go to the restroom. I told my boyfriend that if I wasn’t back in five minutes I’d likely been beat to death by rabid Bronco fans. Sadly, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if I had been.
Maybe it’s like this in every town that has a pro football team, but sometimes I can’t help but shake my head in wonder. Expressing dislike for the home team, or for football in general, is met with condescension at best and with outright hostility at worst. It’s betrayal. Sacrilege.
I’ve never been a big football fan, but what started as apathy has morphed into moral opposition; the result of my growing feminist outlook on life, my desire for peace and nonviolence in this world, my distaste for so much money being wasted on something so trivial when it could be doing good, and the fact that I sustained a mild traumatic brain injury a few years ago which dramatically altered my life.
I am a heretic and quite frankly, I’m proud to be one. Football is a brutal sport that sometimes ends up destroying the lives of those who play it. Sure, they get to be famous, revered and worshiped for a time, but at what cost? Is it worth it? I’m sure some of them would say it was, but it’s likely those who have been able to find another niche, or who either had or learned other marketable skills after leaving the game. Many end up broke, depressed, and some even commit suicide (or homicide). The cumulative effect of multiple concussions can be devastating:
“I can’t find a job. Must be the tau protein build-up. I am sad and I am depressed and suicidal thoughts, like raindrops, come down from the sky on seemingly sunny afternoons. Is this science, or the realization that my life peaked in my twenties? I have no skills other than football and no idea what else to do.”
~ Nate Jackson, former Denver Bronco
I sustained my own concussion by crashing heads without a helmet. I was swinging my then 6 year-old daughter upside down, mis-timed it and our heads met on an upswing. I ended up with two herniated discs in my neck, whiplash, and a significant concussion. My daughter, gratefully, was fine.
It’s been almost three years since that fateful day, and I am a different person than I was before. It’s been an uphill battle, and I’d say that I’m about 85% recovered and that this is likely as good as it’s going to get. My intellect took a significant hit, as did my physical ability and prowess. I’ve taken it a day at a time, and I simply do the best I can. But I do worry in the back of my mind about the possibility of being in an accident that may cause even worse damage. I also know that my risk for Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, and suicide has increased with my injury, and I have indeed battled the last three.
What’s interesting is that years ago my main point of contention with football was the obscene amounts of money involved, including the players’ salaries. But now after my experience with a brain injury, I tend to think, “They’re going to need that money for medical expenses,” as well as, “It may not be enough.” Having experienced the pain, confusion, insomnia, anxiety, depression, neurological symptoms, expense from trying to find treatments that work, as well as thoughts of suicide that seem to arise from nowhere, it’s not something I would wish on my worst enemy.
Do we really want to take part in something that literally chews people up and spits them out, leaving them to fend for themselves and hoping that they had the financial smarts to save a lot of the money we threw at them for entertaining us whilst destroying their bodies and brains?
My experience with my concussion has helped to crystallize my own feelings about the sport of football. But its not just the risk of injury to the players that upsets me. There are a slew of other reasons. I’ve also been spending a lot of time the last several years fighting for female and LGBTQ equality, and I can’t feel good about spending time or money on something that is in direct opposition to my goals, and in fact glorifies the very things that are problematic.
I’m really not a fun hater, I swear. I can see that football brings people together, and there is a camaraderie amongst fans of the same team. But what impacts me more is the multiple reports of fan-on-fan violence this season. It’s something to think about: a violent game spurring violence amongst those who take part. It’s an offshoot of the problem of misogyny within football (as well as other male dominated sports from the high school to the professional level) – there is a long history of domestic violence, rape, the glorification of the masculine and objectification of the feminine, rampant homophobia, the exclusion of female voices and perspectives except those that are willing to be objectified and sexualized. It’s the patriarchy magnified, and it’s not pretty.
My eyes have been opened, and I can’t in good conscience take part, least of all in the name of entertainment or “good fun.”
I’m just a woman with a brain injury and an opinion, and no personal stake in the game, so I don’t expect many will listen to my position. I’m not the only one talking though. Former players, their wives, and current youth and high school coaches are having the courage to speak up. Hopefully some will listen.
So loud and proud, I state again:
I HATE the Broncos. (While simultaneously wishing them the best with their lives post football and as few concussions as it is possible to escape with.)
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/jvh33