Gentlemen, this is an oblong spheroid made of pigskin. It’s called a football.
– allegedly the first words Coach Knute Rockne said to his players at Notre Dame
I’ve had a lifetime relationship with football. Mine was a football coach’s family. One of my earliest memories is sitting next to my father in our living room watching game film and helping him grade his player’s performance from last week’s game and then breaking down film trying to figure out how to defeat next week’s opponent. I can’t remember a fall Friday night of my childhood that did not involve football. I played the game myself from grade school through college.
Being around and playing the game of football has taught me good things: how to win humbly and lose graciously (sportsmanship) and how to work with others toward a common goal (teamwork). It also allowed me through the sweat and struggle and sometimes ice and mud to have the sheer joy of playing a game I loved. Nothing brought out more primal joy in me than a clean, hard hit on the opposing team’s running back, especially when he was actually carrying the football.
I’m now, however, reassessing my love of football. I remain thankful for what I learned from the game and for the fun playing it, but it no longer has that primal joy for me. Maybe it’s my age and the creaky knees and back issues that X-rays show are a result of playing. I was concussed twice. Back then, you just got your “bell rung” and you went back in the game. But now, we know more about the long-term corrosive effects on players, particularly those who played longer and at a much higher level than I ever did.
And maybe it’s also the commercialization of the sport even down to youth leagues where apparel companies bid for dominance. It’s become a business to many. If schools, leagues, associations, and sponsors get rich off the player’s skills, then how can anyone deny them financial compensation? After all, it’s a business where everyone else makes money except those who play the game. It’s downright un-American to deny someone payment for their toil, especially if that someone, because of what they do, may need their orthopedist on speed dial for the rest of their lives.
But I think the real reason my primal joy of football is leaving me is that I’m just not as violent as I once was. Or maybe I’m still so inclined, but since I’m not as physically capable of it anymore, I don’t get the joy out of it I once did. While players might not intend to permanently hurt an opposing player, they do want to hurt them enough so the opposition will give ground and allow their team to win. And I don’t know whether football players are more violent off the field than everyone else. Recent and persistent news reports, though, should give us all concern about football’s repetitive violent collisions and its derivative impact on players’ neural and emotional health.
I don’t offer this eCrozier in my teaching role as a bishop. It’s adiaphora. If you still love football, then good for you. It’s merely where I’ve come to in my football journey.