September 17, 2014

Don't Let The Darkness Touch Us

"Are you going to stop watching football?"

I'm surprised by the frequency with which I've been asked that question lately. The short answer is "Fuck no," but the underlying reasoning that impels me to keep watching is much more complex. If I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that being an NFL fan has left me feeling more than a little sleazy lately. Institutionally, it's clear that the NFL is rotten to the core, operating with no motivation other than avarice (it's telling that the Vikings changed course and sent Adrian Peterson away only after the NFL's corporate sponsors started voicing their displeasure). While the vast majority of NFL players are decent people, there are reprobates on every roster, and their misdeeds are largely tolerated as long as they produce on the field. In addition, despite a continuing (and positive) social evolution, the league is still severely afflicted with misogyny and homophobia. Finally, the concussion crisis looms over the sport like a pitch black storm front. 

So why do I keep watching? One reason is that the game itself is still RIDICULOUSLY entertaining. Once the 1 pm games kicked off last Sunday and I immersed myself in NFL Red Zone, I forgot about Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Roger Goodell, and was swept away by the unfolding drama being played out on gridirons from Buffalo to Minneapolis. In a tangible way, the game is addictive (even more so when you add fantasy football and/or gambling to the mix). That's not enough, though. College football can be equally compelling/dramatic on TV, and I couldn't possibly be less invested in that action. 

So why do I keep watching? I keep watching because despite ALL of the misdeeds and missteps of the NFL, I cannot bear the thought of abandoning my beloved Seahawks. They're why I found myself yet again in a noisy, overpriced sports bar on a Sunday afternoon. I have to admit that if I was a "casual" fan, I would probably be more likely to drift away from the NFL. 

But I'm not. If you are reading this, you probably aren't either. Last night I went to a speech given by transgender icon/Emmy nominee Laverne Cox. What she said was raw and real and heartfelt, and I'm a huge fan of hers. But while I listened to her story, I was struck by how DIFFERENT it was from my personal experiences as a trans woman. That's understandable (and totally OK), but it underlined something that's always been an issue for me: I always have felt like a bit of an outsider. Even as a trans woman, I often feel like my experiences and perspectives don't really line up with everyone else in the group. It reminded me that I've felt my strongest emotions of belonging, and my most intense feelings of community and identity, as a Seahawks fan. Before anything else, I am a Twelve. 

I don't want to be a mindless drone. I don't want to be the type of person who would wear an Adrian Peterson jersey and bring a switch to a tailgating party. I want to be a thoughtful fan, an intelligent critic. I also know I don't really want to be faced with the dilemmas Vikings or Ravens fans are wrestling with right now. Every time a new story of NFL misconduct pops up, among my first thoughts is always "Thank God he's not a Seahawk." I hope that this darkness doesn't touch MY team, because I know that would lead to intense psychological discomfort. How would I react if Marshawn Lynch was the one who beat his kids? Or if Earl Thomas was caught on tape punching a woman? I'm squirming in my seat just thinking about the possibility, because I hope that I never find out how great my capacity for hypocrisy really is. I think about the women in Baltimore who were wearing Ray Rice jerseys to the game last week, and I wonder "How the fuck can they do that?" As implausible as it sounds, I've been wondering what I'd do with my new Russell Wilson jersey if I found out he'd committed some heinous offense. Would I grope for an excuse to keep wearing it, or would I just be very happy I have a #12 jersey as my back-up gameday gear?

The good news, as Will Leitch pointed out, is that as craven as the NFL is, it DOES respond to public pressure. My fervent hope is that the culture shift in the NFL will accelerate, its leadership will change, and I won't have to keep apologizing for following the team (and the game) I love. If I need to stop watching the NFL because of Rice/Peterson/Goodell, soccer fans should stop following their beloved sport because of Sepp Blatter and Qatar. Basketball fans should abandon roundball because of the pervasive racism in NBA front-offices, and so on. We live our lives negotiating our way through contradictions, simply hoping those contradictions don't become too sharp for us to bear. 

On the field I'm not concerned about the Seahawks. It took a combination of a perfect game from Phillip Rivers and a subpar afternoon from our defense for San Diego to beat us, and that's going to be very difficult blueprint for 90% of the NFL to replicate. I couldn't be more excited to see the Broncos coming to town. With our aura of invincibility punctured, the Legion of Boom will be primed to prove they're the same unit that shut down Manning and company in XLVIII. In front of 67,000 howling Twelves, they will. My pick? Seahawks 30, Broncos 20

I am POSITIVE that for three hours this Sunday, the Seahawks will remind me why I'm hopelessly addicted to this game. 

What do you think, sirs?


it's all in D Hans said...

As always, I love reading your blog. Poignant, intelligent conversation that is on the level. I too, share your unbridled (and obsessive) passion for all things NFL, especially for our Seahawks.

It is a shame that the minority of "repobates" make the major headlines and degrade the integrity of the majority of good people who also line the many rosters of our favorite sport. But the "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality of the media today make it so. TMZ has become the hottest sports reporting venue due to the Ray Rice scandal. If there is money to be made...

Last year it was bullying within the team, this year it is bullying outside of the team. This is a sport of warriors. We lavish praise about the hardcore action on the filed, and act surpised when some of it follows the players off of the field. I agree, abuse of any type is absolutely wrong. But I don't believe that the identity of the NFL Shield is represented by the vagabonds that cannot handle themselves as men. It is likely they would be the same type of man whether or not they were playing football.

Thanks Johnnie for giving me a great read with every post that you share. You are an influential part of the public opinion that will help to shape the league moving forward. Keep on keeping on.

Sammy said...

NFL players are, in reality, 50% LESS likely to be accused of a crime than the general public. This isn't an NFL problem, it's a societal problem highlighted by the media exposure of the NFL.