By Kate Allen Fox
I have fond memories of helping my dad keep track of his fantasy football team, eating at a local pizzeria while watching Monday Night Football, and decorating cakes to look like football fields for parties at our house. In college, I spent many Saturdays tailgating at UCLA’s Rose Bowl. And as an adult, I have used fantasy football leagues to stay in touch with siblings, cousins, and assorted relatives scattered across the country.
Football was part of my culture—my family’s and my country’s. It gave me a sense of connection to my past and to my community. I’d relish a weekend afternoon watching a game and eating spicy wings.
And then, I had two little boys of my own. I kept watching, but suddenly, there was a kernel of uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. As my older son grew and became more aware, my discomfort also grew until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
I was teaching him about gentleness and sharing—about how “we” don’t hit or push. Then, on a Sunday, the screen would light up, and his eyes would turn to a game that taught the opposite. Faced with images like that, my words about gentleness seemed hollow. It’s true that football is a game in which all the participants (except the kicker) have consented to being knocked around and pushed. But seeing the game through my son’s eyes, I could only see the celebrations of “good hits,” hear the cracking of bodies against each other, sense the joy in the overt violence.
While there may be a place for such games in our society, I couldn’t see a place for it in my sons’ childhoods. These were the same childhoods that I filled with music and books with affirming messages and language carefully crafted based on the latest child development literature. I certainly didn’t (and don’t) succeed in making my sons’ lives some sort of idyllic Montessori environment at all times, but I also became increasingly uncomfortable exposing them, for no reason beyond “tradition,” to implicit messages of violence—that violence was something to celebrate, practice, even excel at.
Then, there was the question of whether I would ever let my sons play football. At some point, they will make their own decisions about what activities they partake in. But, at least in the short-term, I can call the shots. And, based on mounting evidence around youth football and brain damage, I knew I would never want my sons to actually play this sport.
This realization felt like a small loss of my own childhood. I watched my brothers play as kids and now knew I would not recreate those memories for my own sons. They may very well discover football on their own and ache to play, but I saw no point in making that more likely through repeated exposure to the game.
Finally, there was the broader question of what I was supporting when I gave my time, attention, and eyeballs to a football game. In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that I was supporting an industry that harms its employees and inadequately addresses violence off the field, among other issues. If I was going to teach my sons how to be good corporate citizens—to not support organizations and industries that bring more harm than good into the world—I would need to lead by example. It seemed giving up football was a good place to start.
Professional football teams and the NFL have undertaken some steps to ameliorate the harms of football through rules and other changes, but it will always be a game predicated on violence. Ultimately, I knew that was not what I wanted my sons to aspire to.
In a world with a million demands on our time and more entertainment than one could ever consume, I no longer saw a place for football in our home. So, I turned off the TV and dropped out of the fantasy football leagues. And now, together with my boys, we’re starting new Sunday fall traditions of our own.
Kate Allen Fox is a mom of two young boys, living in Washington state, and a middle grade novelist.
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