The League

"I miss when everybody was just pissed at me about concussions..."

I love a good college football game, but coming from Portland and living in LA I’ve never been in a city with a pro football team. This usually leaves me feeling bitter and left out when people at work from places like Denver or Chicago start chattering about points and playoffs and fantasy teams. For the past couple of weeks, though, not watching the NFL has given me a wonderful, smug glow of moral superiority – I am no longer simply not watching the NFL because I don’t have a team; now I’m standing on principle and boycotting it.

From the outside looking in, here’s how I see it: The NFL is a (nonprofit!) organization that takes young men, some of whom have aggressive tendencies, and gives them huge sums of money and godlike celebrity status to play a game that routinely results in brain damage. I’m not saying this to try and apologize for the actions of thugs who beat the shit out of their loved ones at the drop of a hat; I’m saying this to make it clear that unless the NFL undergoes a lot of major structural changes, I don’t see this problem going away anytime soon.

I don’t think that anybody at the NFL is pro-domestic violence. I have no doubt that in even their most candid moments, every NFL executive thinks domestic abuse is horrible and needs to stop. It’s just that as an organization, the NFL really doesn’t have to do anything more than the bare minimum necessary to appear concerned about the problem – so why would they?

Right now, everybody hates the NFL, and their Ferguson Police Department-esque crisis management skills haven’t helped much. Multiple senators have written angry letters and, more importantly, one of the NFL’s largest sponsors released a tersely worded statement criticizing the league’s multiple PR disasters. Personally, I think it’s kind of cute that despite the billions and billions of dollars, like most other nonprofits the NFL is still apparently run by enthusiastic but undertrained volunteers.

So everybody’s angry, but not angry enough to stop watching football. In fact, everybody’s watching more football, probably because of all the free publicity the NFL is getting every day in pretty much every major news outlet. At a Ravens bar in Baltimore, there’s reportedly been an uptick in attendance by patrons who “…are wanting to see the Ravens fail.” Fortunately for the NFL, the people hate-watching the Ravens are also hate-watching commercials, and that’s the only thing that really matters.

Again, I think that if the NFL had a button they could push that would make their players stop beating their wives and children, they would have mashed it several hundred times well before now. If there was a cheap, easy fix to this problem, it would be swiftly implemented. But there isn’t a cheap, easy fix – the real solution would be to adopt a zero-tolerance code of conduct that would obviously see multiple popular players banned from the league every year. Axing peoples’ favorite players from the league is one thing that actually could get people to stop watching the NFL. Maintaining the status quo, on the other hand, costs nothing and has no real consequences besides a national guilt tripping.

Imagine if there wasn’t a law against not paying your taxes. The government still asks you to pay taxes, of course, but if you choose not to pay them all they do is send you a really nasty letter. Under those circumstances, would you really still pay your taxes? I mean, it’s just a simple choice between doing what is clearly the moral and responsible thing to do or having a bunch of extra money every week. But virtue is its own reward, right?

Sure, Anheuser-Busch said they were disappointed, because they undoubtedly were – domestic violence is horrible and the nonprofit they sponsor is not responding properly. But it’s not like Anheuser-Busch is seriously going to stop sponsoring the NFL. Too many people are making too much money for that to happen. And some folks may make a stink about it, but will they really be mad enough to boycott the company that makes their favorite beer for supporting the league that plays their favorite sport?

It’s easy for me to get on my high horse about this stuff because I don’t drink beer and I don’t watch pro football. But if the showrunners for The Americans got busted for dogfighting, would I really stop watching The Americans? If Sriracha manufacturer Huy Fong Foods bought airtime on Rush Limbaugh’s show, would I just eat my steamed rice and broccoli plain? If I found out Alison Brie was anti-vaccine, would I find a new standard for perfection?

Millions of people have deep, traditional, emotional connections to teams and players in the NFL, many of which aren’t involved in these scandals. At that point, it starts to become a question of just how egregious a moral offense has to be to get you to give up a part of your identity that brings you a lot of pride and joy. If the NFL was openly promoting domestic violence, I’m sure there would be a boycott – because everyone agrees that domestic violence is horrible and should not be promoted.

But the NFL isn’t promoting domestic violence; they’re just not doing enough to stop it. And they’re sorry about that – they’re super sorry, and they promise they’re going to try really hard to get better in ways that aren’t exactly clear yet. People aren’t going to start canceling their Fantasy Football teams just because the NFL sucks at crisis management. And as a result, the NFL will never have a compelling reason to try and prevent those crises in the first place.

When you love something a lot, it can be hard to walk away - even when it gives you a good reason to. 

Truman Capps is now less enthusiastic about LA supposedly getting a team.