Quitting football isn’t going to be easy. I don’t mean the decision to give up on a sport that I’ve loved since childhood. The knowledge we now have about player safety and the NFL’s inability or unwillingness to address it meaningfully, as well as the endless revelations of sickening off-the-field behavior from some players, coaches, teams and universities have finally tipped the equation for me.
Mentally letting go of the sport is now easy.
No, the hard part is going to be untangling myself from the clutches football has on my life and our culture.
Ever since I played football in high school, the smell of fresh cut grass, that first chill in the air that signals the onset of fall, the sound of a marching band have all said to me: It’s football season. Check some scores. Set your lineup. Not a game night? Watch highlights or your entire favorite college game from eight years ago on YouTube.
For starters, how am I going to break it to my fantasy football league? This season will mark the 24th year of a league I started with friends the year after college. A couple of seasons ago, already feeling the pull to break my football habit, I polled the group to see if they still liked playing or if they were more ambivalent about whether the league continued. The responses were swift and unanimous: We love this league, don’t you dare try to break it up.
Indeed, many relationships I have are outright built on common experiences we’ve had with football. Other friendships are strengthened by a shared interest in the sport. Will I have to make new friends?
Culturally, it runs even deeper. Football is a common and near-universal language for people who must make small talk at work, or avoid other, more potentially explosive topics at the family Thanksgiving. Jimmy G looks good, huh? I’ll say.
Stanford going to make the playoff?
Since the season hasn’t actually started yet, the hardest part so far has been not listening to football podcasts. The truth is, in the past couple of years, I’ve looked more forward to Bill Simmons and Cousin Sal than I have to most of the actual games. What am I to do now on the transbay commute and on walks in the city? Surely not engage in the news. I’ve worked too hard the past two years absorbing the exact least amount of real news I could and still function in society.
The past few weeks I have now had to apply myself in the same way in order to avoid scores and news from the NFL preseason and college football previews. Picking up my phone to mindlessly browse ESPN is just muscle memory now. I don’t even notice I’m doing it.
Now, there will be two exemptions in the otherwise total blackout: when my brother and childhood friend fly in to watch our beloved Raiders, and also when my best friend from college flies in from Oregon to go to the Ducks-Cal game with me. I wonder if I’ll feel a surge, like the kind you get when you spend time with a long lost friend. Or if it will be more like running into an ex, where you instantly recall all the reasons why you didn’t stay together.
Since the NBA Finals ended, and with the occasional video for our boys, 2 and 4 years old, the television has barely been on in our house, and I’m actually eager to see that continue.
Come this weekend, the ritual I’ve undertaken the past 40 years — being in front of one for most of Saturday and Sunday — will be interrupted. Instead, this Sunday, I’ve planned an excursion in Tilden Park with my boys. The sport is just not going to get my eyeballs and mind share this year. And in the coming weeks, as the leaves start to turn and the air gets cool, instead of the remote, I’ll grab my boys, and go to the playground, library or, who knows, maybe the park to kick a soccer ball around.
Analysis by Sean Smith, sfchronicle