Football, I can’t quit you

During the NFL’s regular season this year, I didn’t watch football. I’d read about how concussions were affecting players after they left the game (in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and elsewhere), and I found it hard to enjoy watching knowing that some players on the field would have serious health problems in a few years because of the sport.

Kathy Newman today posted an excellent summary of the reality of playing in the NFL as part of a post on football and the working class:

Do all NFL players make millions of dollars for years upon end?  The statistics might surprise you.  The average NFL career lasts 3 seasons, due to the high rate of brain and leg injuries.  The median salary in the NFL in 2009 was $770,000.  While that might seem like a ton-o-cash, factor in a 35% tax rate, and 6% to the agent.  Now factor in a college education that was not completed or which was poorly attended to.  And this:  78% of all NFL players are bankrupt within two years of the leaving the league.

So this Sunday, whether you are munching on Polish sausage or pierogies, chew on this.  78% of the men suited up in black and green and gold will be bankrupt in the next 5-10 years.  They will be replaced by younger models, who will be encouraged to play even more aggressively, while at the same time threatened with fines totaling in the hundreds of thousands when they do.  They will be coming out of college earlier, with less schooling, and less guidance about what to do with their money during the brief period of time in which it is flowing.  It seems too outrageous to be true, but those of us watching our storied teams do epic battle this Sunday, whether we be plumbers or professors, likely face a more secure economic future than the chiseled, wild-haired, hard-hitting football players that so beautifully represent out Rust Belt pride.

My football boycott started well. I did fine not watching football during the regular season; I particularly enjoyed having Sunday afternoons free.

But once the Steelers made it to the playoffs, abstaining from football became much harder. Now that they’re in the Super Bowl, it’s nigh on impossible to avoid being sucked into the excitement. It’s like a holiday: Stores and restaurants in western PA are closing at 4 or 5pm so employees can watch the game. Terrible Towels are everywhere; everyone seems to be wearing black and gold. I saw a school bus yesterday with “Go Steelers” written in the dirt on a back window.

So I’m heading to my parents’ house tonight to watch the game. And at the same time, I hope the NFL will address the problems that concussions and other injuries create for players.