Football Has No Higher Ground, So Stop the Charade

I’m fully aware that we as humans are wont to ascribe positive or negative attributes to various items and events in our lives, because that gives them a meaning that allows them to more seamlessly fit into the narrative that we are crafting for ourselves.

Whether I disagree with the narrative that you personally are in the middle of creating, I’m generally not about to rain on your parade, pee in your Cheerios, or any other euphemism that describes me picking your narrative apart.

With one exception.

When the thing that you are doing is so clearly wrong, misguided, and devoid of any redeeming value, I’ve got no choice but to interject my opinion in the hopes that you can stop building your narrative around this deeply flawed concept that is bound to implode once reality gets a firm grip on it.

You know who I’m talking about – this is not someone who has an opinion that is different than one of yours, or someone who might know something you don’t and tends to look at things differently.

This is someone who persists in a given belief despite there being actual facts and evidence that directly refute the position they hold, and quite possibly has just not run across those facts in their day-to-day life. Or maybe they have, and simply brushed them off as anomalous to their belief system rather than proof of error.

To that end, let me say this:

There is nothing special about football.

I no longer remember the exact story that first brought this to my attention, but it has popped up again a couple of times in the last month, so we’ll just stick with those.

I first read the New York Times’ story on Don Horton, who played and coached football for most of his life and eventually passed away due to a combination of Parkinson’s disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and the ways in which those two monsters destroyed his body’s systems. It’s a truly heart-wrenching story, but one thing, in particular, caught my attention.

The Hortons are still big fans of college football and watch the sport almost every Saturday in the fall. At the end of games, Maura Horton gathers her daughters to watch postgame interviews with the coaches.

“I still believe the lessons learned in football are really good,” she said, mentioning things like teamwork, work ethic and learning how to win and lose. “And if it’s something their dad would have said, I want them to hear it. The message is still right even if their dad isn’t there to deliver it.”

Excuse my French, but this is fucking absurd.

If you (the general you) want to simply put blinders on and ignore the physical risks of football because it’s “just a game,” then so be it. You and I will agree to disagree.

However, for you to have had an immediate relative die so young, at least in part due to an essentially unavoidable brain injury he sustained while playing football, and continue to plug on in your football fandom because “the lessons learned in football are really good” suggests that you need a good smack upside your head.

Next came an article last month, titled “Why is Football Important?

The crux of the post is a video of Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. He opens by talking about how one of the great things about football is that it unites people across lines, people who wouldn’t talk otherwise for whatever sociopolitical reasons they have.

He shifts to a random story about how he was taking a player to the ER and ran across a Clemson fan who was so excited to meet him that he paused mid-agony to give Dabo a high five. This is a neat moment, but apropos of nothing within everything else we’re talking about here. Dabo then goes on to say:

“That’s the game of football. I’ve seen guys stand up for each other at their weddings. I’ve seen guys be pallbearers at their funerals. I’ve seen teammates be there for a friend when their wife leaves them. The game of football creates a brotherhood and a work ethic and a skill set that is rare in today’s world.”

At this point, I had just about enough, so let me repeat my original response to this story and video clip:

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I will say it again.

There is nothing special about football. Or, more accurately, there is nothing that makes football more special than any other team sport, or any other life opportunity to work collaboratively as part of a team of individuals pursuing a goal.

I am not suggesting that what Swinney said is false, not in the slightest. The game of football most certainly does all of those things that he said. I am simply noting that it is ridiculous for anyone to suggest that literally, anything that you learn from football is something that could not possibly be learned anywhere else.

What did Dabo mention? Brotherhood, work ethic, and skill set (aka teamwork). Where else could we possibly learn those things? How about:

  • Baseball team
  • Basketball team
  • Volleyball team
  • Softball team
  • Soccer team
  • Bowling team
  • Archery team
  • Equestrian team
  • Track and field team
  • Math team
  • The Army
  • The Navy
  • The Marines
  • The Coast Guard
  • The Air Force

This is hardly an exhaustive list, but I think you get the idea. There is not a single thing that football can teach you about yourself, working and communicating with others, and any other life lessons that could not be gotten from any other team sport or team-centric organization. To suggest otherwise is belittling every single group of people I just listed, and all the others that belong on that list which I forgot.

So let’s get this straight, once and for all. Football does not teach you a single life lesson that cannot be learned somewhere else, and there is – at an absolute bare minimum – a 51% chance that it will cause brain damage that will shorten your life if you play into your college years. So maybe we should dial back the “ALL PRAISE TOUCHDOWN JESUS” a little bit, huh?

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