I thought I could be Drew Pearson.
I had pretty good hands and some good moves in our backyard, three-on-three scrimmages. And somehow, my two or three miracle catches, against my neighborhood rivals, convinced me that I could dream of becoming an NFL wide receiver. A month into Jr High football practice, however, convinced me otherwise. I didn’t have the body or the speed or the height or the “want to” to become a for real football player. But I gained a healthy respect for what those guys can do and how amazing some of it truly is.
So I, like millions of others, became an armchair quarterback and avid fan. I allowed my blood pressure to rise and fall with the fortunes and misfortunes of my chosen teams and cherished players. As I got older and passed the ages of all of those on an NFL gridiron, I started actually caring about those young guys and what might happen to them after sports. I allowed myself to emotionally invest in their lives and careers.
Not anymore …
Of course, for me (an unapologetic patriot), the cracks in the foundation started with Colin Kaepernick and his “civil rights” stand. The fact that a 27-year-old golden boy, who has had as privileged a life as anyone in America, was taken seriously and listened to and the fact that he had commentators furrowing their brows and shaking their heads “yes” in faux understanding and agreement and the fact that his flipping off the entire country (while scoffing at the fact that he was only being offered 5 million and not 14 million) was actually given any merit of any kind, had me rolling my eyes so far back in my head I could see my sinus infection. And the fact that the NFL itself took no action and fostered his protest into something that caused millions of viewers to tune out, bothered me a great deal.
Then, watching NFL players take a knee for OUR anthem (on foreign soil) while standing for God Save The effing Queen (in protest of President Trump), sent me into an existential tailspin from which I could not recover. Protesting a president is fine …unless you’re Hank Williams Jr and the president is Barack Obama, I suppose. That’ll get you kicked off MNF …but I digress.
The point is, the players started giving me fewer and fewer reasons to root for them. So, I stopped. Then, the NFL rewarded the man who managed all this chaos with the leadership skills and backbone of one of the adults not wanting to get wished into the cornfield in that famous Twilight Zone episode, with a new two hundred million dollar contract. That made my head explode.
All of that aggregated disgust has meant that I haven’t watched an NFL game in almost two years. And in a weird way, I think I’m healthier for it.
Being turned off by the NFL and disconnecting from football has given me a new perspective on all sports, and a new perspective on our culture as a whole.
When I got off refined sugar (fifteen years ago) my eyes opened to just how pervasive and insidious that substance has been to the western diet. I also realized that refined sugar is probably responsible for more deaths than any other substance out there …including drugs and alcohol. And now (almost two decades later) I still can’t eat a piece of candy without getting a migraine headache. Pies and cakes don’t appeal to me. Because I know what they are and I know what they’re not. And what they are NOT …is actual food. I’m pretty sure I’ll never go back to consuming that substance, on any kind of regular basis, again.
By the same token, fasting (for lack of a better word) sports has opened my eyes to some things. As I fight and scratch to keep my family fed and keep a roof over their heads, I realize that we as a culture have decided what is valuable and what isn’t. What I do isn’t all that valuable. So, even though I may (MAY) be every bit as good at what I do as Aaron Rodgers is at what he does (ok …maybe as good as Ryan Leaf), our society has decided his value is almost infinite. Mine? Well, we’re pulling for ya, Reg. Hope it works out and you get another big hit. You (and people like you) can make us laugh and cry and think and you can move us with melodies and lyrics. But it’s not like you can throw a ball 60 yards. I mean, come on bro. It is what it is.
My son’s best friend was playing pee wee football, when he sustained his first concussion …at age 8. Apparently, he’s now well enough to put the pads back on. And that’s where football and our culture lost me.
It’s not just about NFL protests and people taking a knee. It’s not just about lop-sided, out of control salaries. It’s not about fat cat owners who look over their property with an unaffected pride that only comes with extreme wealth. It’s not about unchecked hubris and end zone dances. For me, the idea of sports and competition has engulfed us like a wildfire. And it’s not just in the pro ranks. It flows down to college, high school and little league. It has become our worship; our sacrament; the alter to which we pray. It’s where we place our treasure.
When we’re upset about the teachers’ raises but we’re excited about that new soccer stadium, something has gone wrong. When we yell and scream and threaten kids and coaches who are all doing their best, we’ve lost our way. When we are rabidly more concerned about our basketball recruiting choices than we are over the arts programs, we’re simply out of balance. And balance is something I’m desperately trying to find.
As songwriting salaries have plummeted 50 to 80 percent in the last few years, and no one has batted an eye, we songwriters know exactly how important we are to the culture. No need to say anything, culture. We’ve heard you loud and clear. Watching my brothers and sisters lose everything while millionaires argue with billionaires over a game, has left me not wanting to participate in the very system that feeds that kind of imbalance.
I don’t want your big, foam fingers or your overpriced beer or your jerseys with a numbers on them. I don’t want to watch your college bowl games that only create more heroes with chips on their shoulders and hall passes from spousal abuse. I don’t want to watch your high school games that are nothing more than gladiatorial training grounds for kids who can’t yet buy a beer.
No, I’m done watching leather get thrown around. I’m looking for something else to worship; something bigger and deeper and higher.
Of course, if my son decides to play …all bets are off.