McGinnis: I’m free SundayWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I will not be watching the Super Bowl this Sunday night.
For anyone who knows me, this is hardly shocking news. I rarely express any interest in anything related to football, whether on the college or professional level. Most of my friends naturally assumed I would spend Sunday night playing video games or sleeping or marathoning Martin Scorsese movies or whatever else they imagine I do in my spare time. (Most of the time, these people would be correct.)
But even though I am hardly the most avid football fan, and not-so-secretly believe it is massively overrated as a sport, even I usually hear the siren song of Super Bowl Sunday.
It has long since become a national holiday anyway, a moment of community where we gather with friends and family to worship at the cultural altar that is the country’s most popular game, with hymns to shameless commercialism and pop music added in. There may be no more purely American event than the Super Bowl.
So every year I find myself joining the crowd for an evening of football. But not this time. This year, a series of events has coalesced to make me think twice about joining in the celebration.
First, I watched the excellent and disturbing Frontline documentary “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” on Netflix. The piece is a two-hour-long exposé on the effects of concussions on football players; it examines mounting evidence that serious health risks are posed by the continuous hits sustained by players. Beyond that, the documentary makes serious claims about the NFL’s response to such evidence, depicting a league seemingly dragging its feet instead of seriously investigating the problem.
The NFL has apparently started to come around, treating head injuries with the care needed. It also reached a settlement in a lawsuit related to the claims in August 2013, contributing $765 million to the medical treatment of thousands of players. And only 20 years after the first hard evidence began to come to light. (The settlement was rejected by a judge in January 2014 but is expected to be approved soon.)
Then came the season’s scandals, a seemingly endless wave of embarrassments and outrage connected to the league, with the Ray Rice incident and the NFL’s handling of it at the top of the list. We could talk all day about what the NFL knew and what it didn’t know, when it got the infamous tape and the recent investigation which cleared the league of wrongdoing.
Beyond everything, I can’t help but find the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell’s response to the scandal to be indicative of a wider problem. Between the far-too-lenient two-game suspension handed down to Rice, the clearly botched handling of attempts to obtain the security footage, and having Rice’s suspension overturned because of the league’s screw-ups, the NFL’s response to the incident has frankly been an embarrassing comedy of errors.
But the last thing, the very last straw that caps the whole season, are the investigations and focus being placed on the condition of the footballs used in the New England Patriots’ last win — the so-called “Deflategate.” I honestly couldn’t give a crap about whether or not the Patriots cheated deliberately. What bothers me is how rapidly and deliberately the NFL, media and fans moved to garner as much evidence as possible to condemn or clear the team of wrongdoing. So decisive. So unlike how the league reacted to previous scandals.
Admittedly, there was a time factor — the Super Bowl was only two weeks away, and there was an obvious benefit to getting information as quickly as possible. But contrasting the rapid response to an issue where the outcome of something as meaningless as a game was in question, to the relatively lackadaisical response to situations where human lives were impacted — this has disturbed me.
So no, I won’t be watching the Super Bowl this Sunday. I don’t begrudge anyone who does, and I’m not campaigning for anyone to join me. I am merely expressing my frustration toward what I feel are misguided priorities. For no matter how monumental and important people may feel a game is, it is, after all, just that — a game. A diversion. No more, no less. But when the health and well-being of human beings seem to take a back seat to the integrity of a game, something should change.
Jeff McGinnis is pop culture editor of Toledo Free Press. He can be reached at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.