I will admit up front that I find the game of football less than scintillating. Much less. Oh, I’ve watched games (and have even rooted for teams like the Eagles and the Colts in the past). I’ve always wanted my college teams to win, although not enough to actually attend games (waste of an afternoon). So I don’t actually follow football.
Okay, I get that people enjoy watching and following football—I used to be quite the baseball and hockey fan. And frankly, I didn’t care until recently. What has changed is the increasing understanding we have of the effects of repetitive football head injuries (e.g. concussions) on the brain, specifically chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Once primarily associated with boxers, the prevalence of CTE in retired football players has been generating much media attention. This is an ugly, tragic disease, one that is both progressive and degenerative. Memory loss, aggression, cognitive disturbances—these are the symptoms of CTE. Dave Duerson, a former NFL star who graduated from a local high school, committed suicide three years ago, leaving behind a message that his brain be used for research (he was found to have suffered from CTE). Even parents are becoming leery of having their kids play football, according to a recent study. So, if I follow football (or ice hockey, a sport I really did use to pay attention to), am I somewhat culpable in the likelihood of these players suffering years from now? Would I be contributing to a culture that lionizes a sport with the potential for endangering even children? Surely if there are fewer fans, then the NFL (or the NHL) would have to institute changes to make these games safer for everyone.
Which brings me to the Super Bowl. Super Bowl Sunday is a de facto (US)American holiday. I’ve thrown very successful Super Bowl parties (and attended them at the homes of others). Sometimes I might actually be rooting for some team, though usually not. What I always enjoyed most of all are the commercials—some very good and some forgettable. So my dilemma is whether watching the ads on Sunday is innocuous (I’m not actually following the game and promoting football) or whether it is morally wrong (if I pay attention to the advertisers, then I am contributing to the “importance” of football). Am I guilty of being the person who didn’t speak up?