Why I Finally Decided to Divorce the NFL

I’m done. I have been moving in this direction for a while now, swallowing back the bile that sometimes rose in my throat as I watched football players knock around on the field. But, I gulped and re-engaged in the game; my love for the complexity of plays, depth charts, strategy, division standings, penalties – all swirling in my head in a pleasantly distracting fog. I put off the mourning and loss I would experience if I separated from the NFL – a marriage that has existed as long as I have memories.

But, now, I’m done. My older brother washed his hands of the Cleveland Browns years ago, explaining he could no longer take the constant heartbreak. I didn’t mind so much, my passion for Team coming in second to my enjoyment of Game. I’m definitely done, now, though. IMG_5212Not because we catch up and tie a game only to lose in the last few seconds. Not because we hire Johnny Football only to sit back and let him run wild during the offseason. Not because we lose nearly every game in the regular season only to win the last two and knock ourselves down in the draft.

Why am I done? I am done because I am a woman and human being and a believer in people before profit. I am done because of the continued undercurrent of racism (white owners and managers bidding in auction over the physical prowess of mostly black players).I am done because, despite knowing the long-term physical and psychology effects of repeated trauma to the brain, players are thrown back into game after game in blurry confusion from concussions (having sustained one earlier this year I now realize how long-lasting and incredibly debilitating they are). I am done because, with silent and strong consent, professionals committed to the practice of medicine for health and longevity instead use it to mask physical pain so that players continue playing despite knowing this creates life-threatening situations for all of them. I am so done.

The final straw? Ray Rice. I’m not sure why it was Mr. Rice. Domestic violence has long plagued a league that would rather pay lip service to player discipline. But it was Ray Rice. It was realizing the NFL knew exactly what Mr. Rice did to his then fiancé in an elevator in Las Vegas (sucker punched her, knocking her out cold). It was watching as he dragged her limp doll-like body out of the elevator, dropping her carelessly on white marble floor, her body positioned halfway through the elevator door. I was pushed over the edge by the visual TMZ broadcasted because actually watching this horrifying scene triggered my deep human sense of survival.

I am a woman. I do know how to fight, having had to do this to survive elementary school. But, I am not good at it. I lack upper body strength and would not be able to defend myself against a man, especially an active football player. And while I know this type of violence is perpetrated against those with whom such men are most intimate, how can I not sympathize with a woman being knocked out in the private confines of an elevator? It is visceral, not logical.

I left the liberal politics in Oakland/Berkeley because they came after my own survival, confusing anti-Semitism with Middle-East political correctness. I couldn’t hang out with a population who would at best turn away, at worst celebrate, the destruction of my people. The decision I am making now is the same thing. How can I enjoy a sport that keeps looking the other way as my gender is destroyed? I forgot Martin Niedmoller’s poem , “They came for the Socialists.” I wish I stopped watching when I first noticed the racism. I confess: I did not. I waited instead for them to come for me, to come for my gender. To sucker-punch one of us in an elevator and then casually, balefully, kick and drag her body. But, now I am done.

I will share with my son why I made this decision (without the graphic detail). I will tell him I am embarrassed and regretful at how long I waited. I will not ask him to quit in protest with me. I can only model sadness over my mistakes. But, know this, NFL (if you even care – it’s not like I actually run out and buy the pizza or beer or cars your advertisers flaunt):

I. Am. Done.

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