Last year, my wife and I joined many others across the country in boycotting the NFL. There were a lot of competing hashtags out there, always a bad sign for a “movement”, but the one that we used was #NoKaepNoNFL. I did a whole series of blog posts last season under that title. You can look them up if you feel so inclined.
The conversation around whether or not we would resume watching the NFL in the 2018 season was fairly short.
“I don’t know if I can do another season without the NFL”
Who said which line depended on the day. At the end of the day, what is bringing us back to watching is not some high-minded set of principles. No, we’re watching because we really, really, really want to.
That said, I have given this a lot of thought. Were I forced to rationalize, knowing that for some no rationalization would be enough, I would say the following:
*Last year’s boycott was largely ineffective. It was ineffective because it was co-opted by the president. It was ineffective because it was supported by people who had no skin in the game, namely liberals who didn’t watch the game to begin with. It was ineffective because the conversation was dominated by those who insisted the issue was about respect for the flag, country, military, and anthem. It was ineffective because it lost sight of its real goals.
Effective boycotts have organization behind them. Someone creates a cohesive message, disseminates that message through the proper channels and people are disciplined enough to stay on message. There was never any of that here. The fact of the matter is that Colin Kaepernick was trying to send a message, not start a movement. The message was missed willfully by many. And it seems that Mr. Kaepernick has largely moved on to other means of communicating his message.
* The ineffectiveness of the boycott may be my headiest reason, but it’s not my deepest felt. I am, to no insignificant degree, resuming my consumption of the NFL for my son. Thomas has become fanatical in his fandom. I sit back, like Dr. Frankenstein, during most of our conversations wondering what kind of monster I have created. His joy of the game reminds me that it is just that, a game. He’s so fun to watch games with. I love breaking down the games with him afterwards and predicting winners and losers of upcoming games. His childhood enthusiasm for the game brings me to a childlike state. Of course, we talk about why I didn’t watch last year.I remind him that players are real people, a thing he needs little reminder of because he has seen Ben Roethlisberger at church and went to a VBS with his son. We talk about sportsmanship, selfishness, being a good winner, being a good loser, discipline, and teamwork. As someone who doesn’t get to see their kids as often as they like, I’m not throwing away the easiest entry point for relationship with my son. That matters to me more than any protest.
* Moving to even shallower waters, there is another, more basic reason that I am watching the NFL this year: life sucks. To be fair, my life is actually pretty great right now, but every morning I wake and remember that Toupee Fiasco is still in the White House, and my existential dread returns. When I see influential “Christian leaders” get in bed with the politics of the right and set the tone for what is and what is not “Christian”, my heart breaks. The gulf between the rich and the rest of us gets larger. Our country is rolling back environmental protections and human rights in the name of profit. Half the country doesn’t care that this is happening and actually supports it. It’s sad and overwhelming and I want to escape. Last year, having my favorite sport so heavily politicized added to the general feeling of despair that current affairs produced. I got all the politics, none of the fun. It was draining. It became yet another thing to mourn.
A theme that is developing in our house is reclaiming joy (I’ll have more to say about that at a later date). This year, I am reclaiming the joy of watching the NFL. I’m going to a bar this afternoon where I’ll be able to watch the Steelers, Shannon will be able to watch the Ravens, and our friend will be able to watch his beloved 49ers. We’ll drink and eat, we’ll yell at the TV and cheer, we’ll be around like-minded folks who love the sport. I have a fantasy team going. We’re called the Space Force Chaplains. And Shannon, Thomas, and I have each chosen one team from each division that we’re going to root for besides our primary teams. I want to squeeze as much enjoyment out of this season as possible.
I’m sure some of my friends are disappointed in this decision. I know that some people, former fans, have decided not to watch again this season. I support them if that’s what their conscience dictates for them. I hope they won’t judge me too harshly. I guess that brings me to a final reason I’m watching this year: I’m pretty tired of the purity culture of the left. I’m tired of the “Woke Olympics”, where we all compete to be more socially aware than each other. I’m aware of the issues that Colin Kaepernick was trying to bring into the social conscience. I am a black man. I know the issues very well. The culture of the left cancels people who do not achieve a certain level of awareness. It is tiresome to watch. If my watching football disqualifies me from competing for wokeness, then Thank God! I didn’t want to participate in these games in the first place. There is no non-problematic way to participate in American culture. There is no pure way to be a part of a consumerist culture. Most everybody I know is doing their best to get by and who am I to judge what another person needs to add a small piece of joy into their lives. Our litmus testing each other is really destructive and counter-productive.
There’s a piece of me that feels like part of being okay with myself is admitting that I am a flawed, complex person with vices and moral gray areas all over the place. The NFL has always been one of those areas and I’m excited to welcome it back into my life.