This is a hard read. It’s harder not just because of the tragedy of a husband and father’s brain disease, but because this story, and many others like it, will be in the back of my mind as I watch the Super Bowl. I love football, and, as my 16 month old son begs to watch highlights and throw the ball with me after work, I doubt very seriously if that will ever change. It’s “in the blood.” But football, like everything else, was made for people, and not people for football. CTE’s destruction of its victims is a testimony to the reversal of that equation. Football is for people, not people for football, and people come first, because if football comes before people, you’ll run out of both.
I’m seeing some people respond to these stories by remarking how they aren’t able to watch football anymore. Others have wondered aloud whether it’s even moral to watch football in CTE’s shadow. They struggle to reconcile the risk and the disease with enjoyment. How can you enjoy it anymore? Doesn’t every play, every tackle, and every down just scream reminders of Rob Kelly and Junior Seau?
I guess I live inside this tension a little more ably than others because I’ve practiced it on a lot more. Here’s an example: Growing up, the Super Bowl parties that I attended would change the channel during halftime and most commercial breaks. This was the most valuable advertising space in the world, and when corporations need something to seize a golden moment, they reach for sex. Whether crude jokes or scantily clad subjects, the content of the Super Bowl around the game itself was not fit for most living rooms I sat in. I’m very used to watching something with enjoyment loosely held. I’m very used to having my hand near the remote control. Some might suggest that kind of life isn’t worth living. Just give up the Super Bowl, or else give up my puritanism. But the awkward tension feels like home to me.
I’m wondering if perhaps “fundies” have advantage in our emerging justice culture that others don’t have. Fundies grew up knowing that what they watched and where they went had moral importance. Fundies understand from an early age that entertainment is never just entertainment, and that mindlessly consuming anything is probably mindlessly consuming something bad. Fundies are well acquainted with putting moral demands on the world around them. They are usually scorned viciously for it. But doesn’t it feel like the fundies were ahead of the curve? I mean, when you live in a post-CTE, post-Weinstein, post-Nassar, post-Woody Allen era, might not the fundies have a lesson to teach about what life is like when you realize you can’t think deeply and enjoy heedlessly at the same time?
Those who grew up in conservative evangelicalism often joke with one another about what their families didn’t allow them to watch/say/do. Yes, there are silly stories to tell, and yes, we didn’t always get it right. But I admit: Watching secular friends agonize over the moral implications of the NFL and Miramax pictures does bring back some nostalgia, as well as some gratitude for being introduced early to the idea that things matter. So I’ll watch the Super Bowl, hand near the remote and eyes watching the players, silently praying for no head trauma and no husbands who forget their wives. I can live in that discomfort. I have for a long time.