At its most basic level, this is a farewell post to a community that I have been privileged to be a part of for the last couple of years. The amount of work that Fooch and all the other writers here put into this site is outstanding, and it certainly shows. I hope that I have been able to contribute in my own way to what Fooch et al. does on a consistent basis.
On a larger level, though, I want to explain some of my reasons for departing: the NFL is in a sad place right now, largely due to negligence and incompetence, but almost certainly also due to outright corruption and unethical practices. As such, for the last few months, I have been questioning my relationship with the NFL, drawing increasingly confusing conclusions. I don't feel like I can give the sort of due diligence to my work as a writer here as a consequence of this, and so I must step down.
I'm not sure what my fandom is going to look like going forward, but I do know that if I can re-establish a healthy relationship with the NFL, then I need to do a little bit of football soul-searching. And, to be honest, I think most other responsible fans of the game need to do likewise.
I recognize that certain people in the comments sections will likely shout me down. People will likely call me a quitter, or worse. Some might just cast off the dismissive, "okay, bye" in a tone that only the anonymous, and yet increasingly acerbic, Internet can elicit. Yet, I think that reaction is folly.
I have been a fan my entire life, something about which I have written on this very site. In high school, I played football for four years. By no means was I a superstar (far from it), but those years were some of the best in my life and really deepened my appreciation for the game. Playing really lets you see what is happening on the field in a much more clear way.
But, with how ethically compromised the NFL at this point, I worry that it is no longer an organization that I can support, despite how much I love the game and how formative the 49ers have been for my identity, my relationship with my father, and even how I structure my week. Don't think that I am ditching the team just because they are going to be bad (and they are, I hate to say - keep fighting the good fight, team pessimism!). Jed York has run this team stupidly, and I hope that people stop going to that precious stadium of his until he changes the way he runs the team.
No, if the NFL as an organization were sterling, I would still be writing, no matter what happens with the 49ers. But, instead, for the last year (at least), we fans have been subjected to a league that has little interest in the health of the players, their places in society, nor the health of the sport at large.
I'm eager to see what upcoming movie Concussion does for the ongoing dialogue about how the NFL treats its players, especially if Chris Borland has an opportunity to speak about it. Because, at the heart of the NFL's ethical dubiousness is the intersection between players' health and the NFL's desire to make money. I really fear that it's that simple.
But, time and time again, the NFL has proven that it does not want people to be having a conversation about concussions, or injuries at large. This seems obvious to me from the insidious actions that the NFL took with respect to Dr. Bennet Omalu's research to the mundane perpetuation of the drama that is Deflategate in an offseason in which a young star took a nearly unprecedented action by retiring after one season. If the NFL isn't outright blocking information, then it is at least hiding behind the coverage that lawsuits over a football's pressure provides.
I don't think the game is inherently compromised. It's violent, yes. And I'm not altogether inclined to see a ton of rules that would strip that away. I don't want flag football. But, the NFL hasn't taken the easy steps to limit the violence, by - say - actually regulating PED use so that 300 pound men aren't running around at speeds that would have been remarkable 30 years ago. Eliminating PED use, while not the solution, would also not lead to flag football. It simply wouldn't.
No, I don't want flag football. And, I don't think that's inevitable. What needs to happen, though, is for there to be an actual conversation about the nature of violence in football and what possible solutions there might be. And this is why the NFL is so bad: for years now the NFL has not only refused to engage in that conversation, but it has actively attempted to stop it from happening. This not only puts players at risk, but also the integrity of the sport itself.
The NFL will now have to live, for the rest of its life, with the specter of violence looking over its shoulders. Or, it will unless it actually does something about it. Instead of making fans gluttons on fantasy football and crappy talk radio, the NFL might want to shift its focus. I honestly believe that the NFL has a reckoning coming; this bubble is going to burst if they don't do something about it.
I've been thinking a lot about the now iconic metaphor for the NFL: the shield. There's a certain irony to Roger Goodell's mission of protecting the shield - an irony that I'm not alone in noticing: a shield is supposed to protect. It shouldn't require its own protection. But, I've also been thinking about the metaphor in a different context too. I've made no secrets about the fact that I am a graduate student in Classical Studies, and a part of my research is on how certain authors depict the Roman military (I wrote my MA thesis on Julius Caesar's Gallic War memoirs). Well, one basic strategy of a Roman legion was to form up ranks behind a shield wall, push against the enemy for long periods of time (sometimes hours), and stab at them until their line breaks. This was a highly effective tactic not only because the Romans were efficient tacticians and highly trained, but also because the Roman shield (called the scutum) was designed such that you would protect not only your left side, but also your neighbor's right side. The shield functioned as the Lego brick that joined the two soldiers together. The army was stronger when men were protecting each other in addition to themselves.
Well, the owners might want to take this interpretation of the metaphor to heart. Instead of protecting the shield, or using the shield to protect themselves, they could be protecting the right flank of the players. Maybe the NFL could, I don't know, actually pay for some health insurance for ex-players?
So, my plan of action is to stop going to games, buying jerseys, even buying products that sponsors the NFL, if I can. I need to get out of all that and just watch the games (going to a bar to do so since the NFL also can't provide feasible online streaming options because screw the fans too), trying to remember what made the game so special in the first place. If I feel like I can, in good conscience, then I'll come back and write some more. I'll start going to games again. I'll support the NFL. Or, if the NFL actually starts changing, if it really commits to its players, if it doesn't host sham press conferences after mishandling a domestic abuse case, heck, if it stops basically mishandling all such cases, then I'll be back. But, until then, I just need to figure out what my relationship is with this sport.
And, although I highly doubt any high ups are going to read this, if you are, Goodell, think about what is happening. I'm not some casual fan that you're alienating. You have done a horrible job, and you are going to start alienating a lot of people like me.
Thanks for everything, NN. It has truly been my pleasure,