Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thought of the Day: Is it Wrong to Watch the NFL?

I mean 'wrong' in a moral way. This idea is actually my fiancées, and I find it interesting to consider. The idea is best illustrated by a simple analogy through spectrum.

We can all agree that it would be wrong to pay to watch two people fight to the death, even if they consented and were paid money for the fight. We can all agree that it is not wrong to pay to watch people play golf, even though a stray golf ball could potentially kill someone. So we can use these points as the end of a spectrum that represents the ethics of watching, and thereby contributing to, a sport.

'Mortal Combat'--------------------------------------------------------'Golf'

Most sports we watch are somewhere in the middle. But, almost all sport has some level of genuine risk. So if we agree that there is a risk level that is too high for consent (i.e. 'lose and you die' risk level) then where do we, as individuals draw the line?

Personally, this is a major reason why I don't enjoy boxing. It's just too brutal for the real live human beings who participate in it. It causes a lot of harm, and as a viewer I can't escape from the images of an addled George Foreman trying to remember a single sentence long enough to film a commercial for his grill. Boxing smashes brains, so I don't feel ok watching it.

As we gain more information about the dangers of football, and as the game seems to become more concussion prone, I think it is worthwhile to really consider where football falls on the spectrum.

Personally, it hasn't fallen below boxing yet, and I still watch football every weekend. But it was just a thought that I think is worth rolling around from time to time.

1 comment:

  1. Your fiancee must be a very thoughtful lady.

    I was listening to an interview with Chris Nowinski, a former football player/wrestler turned advocate, in which he made an excellent point: While secondary impact (believed to be the primary culprit in lasting brain damage for football players) is a problem at all levels, early trauma is especially damaging. Pre-teen and teenage players not only are at higher risk of sustaining brain injuries, but they aren't in a position to assume the risks such injuries pose decades after the fact. Pro players can give informed consent. Given accurate information on the risks they're taking (and they absolutely must be given accurate information on the risks they're taking for their consent to be informed), they can decide the risk is worth the reward, etc. The vast majority of football players, however, are by no means pros; they're peewee players, high school players, and college players. For anyone under 18, there is no such thing as informed consent. My favorite point he made was that, while we think of many sports as kids' games, football is a very adult game. The risks of TBI are so severe that no kid can choose to take them on. Even for pro football players, it's suspected that some of their most damaging trauma happens before they ever reach the NFL.

    The idea that consent of the player vitiates culpability of the viewer has never much swayed me, but Nowinski's stance does. Focusing on stringent safety requirements at the peewee and high school levels particularly, when kids are playing before their brains' protections have fully matured, coupled with a push to inform college and pro players (fully, accurately, mercilessly) seems like a good course of action.

    An article & the interview are available here: