Quitting the NFL is proving more difficult than quitting smoking.
I stopped smoking about 30 years ago. I’d probably be dead now if I hadn’t put an end to a three-pack-a-day habit.
The first few weeks were a minute-by-minute ordeal, but eventually I spent hours without thinking about smoking. And I no longer am even tempted: Just the thought of it revives memories of a sour stomach, racing heartbeats and breathing difficulties.
The NFL and all big-time football, however, is another story.
There are plenty of reasons to quit.
There is the exploitation of primarily African-American men. Sure, a few hundred players hit the big payday, but most don’t — and are left with a variety of life-crushing injuries, most notably brain damage. For every one making it to the NFL, there are hundreds of thousands who feed the NFL pyramid by playing at the Pee Wee League, high school and college levels. Whether it’s a knee or ankle or spine or brain, most have been injured, and many permanently
Coupled with this free — for the NFL — recruiting system is the ongoing legacy of the NFL refusing to accept — and in some cases silencing or sabotaging — mounting scientific evidence of the harm this most violent of sports inflicts. Comparison to Big Tobacco’s play book are ample and justified.
The NFL likes to brag about its “concussion protocol” but even the NFL admits this is often subverted or just ignored.
There is also a continued practice of sexism, from the objectification of women as cheerleaders to the largely indifferent handling of players who are sexual predators — some of whom are the biggest stars.
And then there’s the cult-like worship of the military and war, from the very language of the sport to the endless — often paid for by the NFL — salutes to veterans. If the NFL — and so many others — was sincere in caring about vets, it would be on the front line championing better care for those who served, even if it means higher taxes. But that, of course, would open the door to questioning why the NFL doesn’t do the same for its own.
There are other reasons — the rise in domestic violence when the home team loses, the callous abandonment of years of loyalty by fans for even more millions in another city and ever-increasing costs from too-expensive tickets and the movement to cable- or satellite TV-only viewing.
Yet it’s still hard for me to quit.
A big reason is because football has been a big part of my life since childhood, when it was often the only time my father and I could share something other than an argument.
Even after leaving home, it is a refuge to which I still return decades later.
And although I never played organized football, there is no denying that for those who did play, there are worthy and valuable lessons learned from football.
For many, their high school or college football coach made them better men
There is much good that comes from sports, including football.
But the billions at stake force an all-or-nothing defense from big-money football.
Those who profit the most see any sensible steps toward safety — such as better equipment and significant rule changes — as the beginning of the end. They also fear such change would open them to a huge legal liability.
But I think I finally have found a cure to my football addiction.
At the midpoint in this weekend’s NFL playoffs, I finally turned a game off.
It’s all the gun ads.
From spots featuring guns touting movies and television shows to local ads for gun dealers and pawn shops, it has become a National Rifle Association convention.
In fairness, such ads can be seen at other times on TV. But given the audience the NFL and college games creates, these in-your-face displays of guns reach a crescendo during football broadcasts.
For me, I first noticed this several years ago when Fox started running promos for “24,” with Kiefer Sutherland pointing a gun right at me. (It’s just one more example of that falsehood that Hollywood is full of liberals. Even the most outspoken are fond of using guns to pimp their latest projects.)
And, returning to smoking, perhaps it’s time to take one from the play book of Big Tobacco’s critics. Eventually, cigarette ads were banned from TV. And while smoking seems to be returning to TV shows and movies as glamorous, such once paid-for product placement remains smaller than before.
It would be a dangerous blow to the First Amendment to ban guns from movies, TV and other media.
But a ban on ads of one dangerous product has been upheld. And, given the declining rates of smoking and the illnesses to which it leads, this curb in commercial speech seems to be working.
How about one for ads using guns?
If there ever was a dangerous product in these times, it is the gun.
According to the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, which averaged gun violence statistics from 2011 to 2015, 112,695 are injured by guns each year in America.
And 33,990 are killed by guns each year.
If guns are not a dangerous product, what is?
As far as I know, the NFL doesn’t consciously promote guns. Nor do they likely control the content of ads the networks choose to air during games. But eventually enough pressure prompted the cigarette-ad ban on TV. And the NFL has significant influence on the networks.
At the same time, I’m realistic about this.
Given the massive dark influence of the NRA and the industry which controls it, a ban on ads using guns will take an overwhelming effort by sensible Americans.
And just as there is no actual ban on cigarettes, an actual ban on something as dangerous as assault rifles alone is a long way off.
But, as with ads for cigarettes, it can begin with individuals putting an end to their own addiction.
I’m writing this early Sunday.
They’ve moved today’s game between my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers and the Kansas City football team to tonight. (Sorry, but I try not to use team names that insult native Americans.)
I usually succumb to sleep by that time, so my first step toward quitting the NFL won’t be so difficult.
I quit smoking.
I can do this, too.
Bruce Mastron is a journalist.