This article was written in the summer of 2014.
I started playing Fantasy Football in the fifth grade. This would’ve been in 1995, when my dad said someone at the office had introduced him to the game. You picked players and then every Monday morning we’d sit down with the box scores from the Billings Gazette sports section and determine how well we did.
When I got into high school I got my own team. I stayed in my dad’s old-man league throughout college, picking up side leagues here and there, and I might’ve even made a little money along the way. A few years ago I joined a “big money” league with some excellent coworkers and extended friends and won the Super Bowl as co-manager of D’Brickashaw’s Rickshaws with my best friend Adam the year before last.
(Last year we were Mingo’s Mangoes, named after 2012 Cleveland Brown rookie slash freight-train Barkevious Mingo).
Nevertheless, this year I’m done with Fantasy Football, which is a more pointed of way of saying I’m done with the National Football League. When you play FFL, not only are you often times putting money into the NFL (through premium official league fees on some sites, licensed drafting materials, etc.) but you are a mouthpiece for the league and its players. In bullshit marketing speak, you are a key influencer. Every Monday you prattle off names and scores and highlights and low-lights; you don’t just talk about if you won the game but how you won it, who won it for you, and how much you love an athletic stranger you’ve never met. While hearing about Fantasy Football quickly grows tiresome, for the right person it sounds exciting and you want a piece of that. It is perfect marketing.
Football is my favorite sport. It is my favorite to watch and was my favorite to play as a kid. The things that have incensed me about the NFL over the past few years include but are not limited to:
The league’s attitude and documented history of denial of traumatic brain injury.
Its cartoonish status as a 501(c)(6) organization.
Its socialist cabal of billionaire owners who take millions upon millions of tax payer subsidies to pay for new stadiums and demand surrounding infrastructure.
But here’s the rub, if you’re still with me — and after the above self-righteousness, I don’t really know how you could be. So yeah, honestly, truly, Jesus, don’t tell anyone I’m actually saying this: I don’t give a fuck. I love football too much. Concussions? These grown men knew what they were getting into. Their tax exempt status? The IRS should really get on that. Tax incentives? Government officials should stop being lapdogs to rich men they think are just so cool. Just whatever, the Bears are playing Green Bay AT Soldier Field and we’ve got seven layer dip. Today, Jennings has Aaron Rodger’s number, Cutler is pretending to care, and this is going to be fucking awesome.
It’s Ray and it’s Rodger. That’s it. I can’t do it anymore. I got through Mike Vick and actually enjoyed watching him play after prison. I know. The other Ray, future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, might’ve killed some guys but there’s something just so Avon Barksdale about the entire alleged story that, for some sick reason, I was OK with it woven into my Sunday narratives. Finally, here’s what happened. A man — actually, no, not just a a man, but by all accounts one of the strongest, most athletic men in the world punched out his fiancee, the aftermath of which is all on video and he has to sit for just thirty two touches of that precious football (based on Rice’s 2013 rushing attempt numbers).
I could go on — the gall it took to have a press conference where she all but apologized; Rodger standing firm that not only is two games is fair it’s consistent. Thank you, commish. At least now I know that when this happens in the future, and it will (unless somehow the 1/4 American women who experience domestic violence dodge the 1600 men who play in the National Football League like Neo in The Matrix). The entire scene is abhorrent and an insult not just to women but to decent people.
So I’m done. As of late last week, the NFL is “considering tougher penalties on domestic violence.” It shouldn’t take much thought given that the penalty for smoking a joint (maybe to take the edge off lingering full-body pain) is four games. (This from a league that still does not test for HGH). But I digress.
I won’t avoid football but they won’t receive any of my money. None. I’ll catch a game here and there if it’s on where I am and I’ll chat with my dad about the scores but I will no longer be a booster and I certainly won’t be an apologist.
At the same time, I won’t be the guy at the end of the bar saying “How can you animals watch this shit anymore?” I get it. The NFL is intoxicating. But this offseason its allure wore off. The spell was snapped and I’d be bummed out if it wasn’t for such a potent, obscene reason.
This year the NBA booted a billionaire for being an 80 year old racist. For life. The NFL is so off in crazy town with its decision to only suspend Ray Rice for two games that I am now 100% certain it can’t return. Maybe the NFL will fold due to health concerns from head injuries. Maybe the earth will open up and swallow all 32 stadiums for karmic retribution for pasting that bullshit pink ribbon behind their shield season after season. Or maybe man kind will be forced to leave this planet for one with a gravitational pull that is less conducive to the game and we’ll all become blood-thirsty curling fans before there’s any reform. I dunno.
Nevertheless, I’m not signing off with “I’m done with NFL and you should be too.” Obviously, that’s how I feel but my point is broader. It’s simply OK to say “you’re done,” with something. It doesn’t make you self-righteous, it doesn’t make you a blowhard — it makes you a human being with a limited capacity for bullshit. You shouldn’t have to eat injustice to be a fan. This week I realized that the NFL that I really want isn’t possible. The NFL I want makes us proud to root for our teams. It lets us have a modicum of belief that the guys on the field not only worked hard to get there but that there have been good faith efforts made to be sure those players are people worth rooting for. This week I realized that’s a fantasy.
Update January 22, 2015: This article was written on August 18, 2014, before the infamous “elevator video” that shows the contact Ray Rice made with his now wife Janay Rice; before the NFL’s new harsher penalties for domestic violence and before the NFL Commissioner’s office continued denials and subsequent release of the Mueller report. Believe it or not, none of those things wound up changing my mind this season.