You’ll find few people who is a more hard-line Boston sports fan than me. You’ll find maybe even fewer who are more passionate Tom Brady fans than I am. However, this year has worn my NFL fandom. There was a stretch when football was easily my favorite sport and the Patriots were the team I followed the most closely. That probably lasted from 2005-2011. It started with the Super Bowl victory over the Eagles in Jacksonville, and ended around the Super Bowl defeat to the New York Giants in Indianapolis. I still follow and support the team, setting aside some time on Sunday to watch their games, and still enjoy watching Tom Brady school his opponents on a now weekly basis. I had maybe my most passionate reaction to any game on February 1 of this year with the Patriots’ victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the Superbowl. See that in the following post.
However, after a summer of Deflategate drama, and a number of NFL scandals and general idiocy, my appreciation for the sport has waned considerably. The ways in which the National Football League has embarrassed itself seems endless. Be it the mishandling of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson scandals, the Bountygate scandal, the on-going issues involving concussions, or the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin disaster, the NFL has lost me with both the frequent misconduct of its players, the frequent demonstrations of moronic lows in the commissioner’s office, and the general sense of not caring about the safety of the players.
I spent some time thinking of reasons beyond the ineptitude of the leagues in question for my fandom changes, and here’s what I noticed. I’ve moved to being more of a basketball fan, and my love of baseball has re-established itself fully over football. Baseball has always been my top sport, except for stretches where the Patriots supplanted the Red Sox. And basketball has slowly won me over after the job I have with WTBU covering the BU Men’s Basketball team, and with other important factors sprinkled in. I find the other sports more entertaining and more fan friendly than football. They’re much easier to watch in person and have plenty of style and flair to make them fun. Football might have spectacle, but it can be remarkably difficult to watch in person and a bit hard to follow the play unless you have been initiated as a fan. It’s even gotten harder watching on TV due to all the commercials interrupting the flow of the broadcast. Granted, that’s an issue across all sports now, but I can’t help but feel this effect at its worst when watching an NFL game.
There’s one piece above all else that has lost my appreciation for the sport: Player safety. I know that I’ve written on here before about being ok with violent moments in sports that can result in the injury of players. But in baseball for example, the injuries that take place are few and far between, and with the sport going by most times with no injury at all. Basketball is similar, with the sport having some physical moments that can result in some bad injuries. Most of the time, however, the nature of the sport does not result in any significant injuries. The physical nature of football results in multiple injuries in every week. All you have to do is look down the injury list each week of this season to understand that. However, there is one player’s case in particular that opens up my eyes about it all: Wes Welker.
From 2007 to 2012, Welker was the most dependable slot receiver in the NFL for any team, collecting over 100 catches in every season except in 2010, and helped the Patriots to two Super Bowl appearances. When he jumped to the Denver Broncos, he was a staple piece of the most prolific offense in NFL history when Peyton Manning threw a record 55 touchdown passes in 2013. Welker played in, and lost, his third Super Bowl since 2007, but he was still effective and one of the best. He also was badly injured. He tore his ACL in the last game of the 2009 season, and has three documented concussions as a result of playing in the NFL. Its likely that he has even more due to his playing style. He is a small slot receiver who catches alot of passes on short routes that lead to frequent huge hits. I’ve watched tape of him recently, and he looks absolutely horrendous. He looks like he has been hit too many times in the head, because he has, and will struggle after his career is done. He was recently interviewed and expressed confusion as to why he isn’t employed by an NFL team. I have a good reason why: He looks bad with his NFL career to this point and it will only get worse with the more hits he will take after signing a free agent deal with the St. Louis Rams. I fear what his life will be after playing football.
That thought has me questioning my fandom of this sport. I’m watching players hit each other and hurt themselves on a regular basis. Not to mention that players I follow and like will be negatively effected by their choice to play a game that only caught on because people enjoy the game. I still appreciate the strategy and beauty inherent in the sport, but have a hard time rationalizing the injury rash in the NFL. I also have a difficult time trying to give the NFL the benefit of the doubt when they frequently deny the impact of concussions on their former players. I’ll probably still watch Tom Brady and a few other players, but my football fandom is waning severely.