If you are encouraging your children to watch football, you may be a "crappy" parent. Football exposes players to the risk of brain damage, and the pro game discriminates against Colin Kaepernick and African American coaches. As a parent who subjects children to football's flaws, you may be a co-conspirator to their hedonism, cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy, alleges Time magazine senior writer Sean Gregory. His story, "Is it Unethical to Watch Football With Your Kids?" will appear in Time's February issue.
As another super bowl approaches, I keep thinking about a clear September afternoon at MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants, and wondering if I’m a crappy dad.
Gregory beats himself up throughout his tortured account of football's evils, but ― spoiler alert ― he takes his young son Will to New York Giants games and watches the sport he crucifies:
"But should I be O.K. with his watching the game? Don’t his (Will's) eyeballs help support an enterprise that we know can damage [see image of NFL player carted off field above] its participants? This is on top of the laundry list of other reasons to tune out, like the stain of disturbing NFL domestic-violence incidents. Or the apparent blacklisting of a player, Colin Kaepernick, for a peaceful act of protest. Or a sudden dearth of African-American head coaches: three now, as opposed to seven in 2018. Around 60% of the NFL’s players are black. There are no African-American majority owners."
Parents who subject their kids to football do so in age without innocence, he says. A 2017 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed 110 of 111 brains of former NFL players showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Several high-profile former players with the disease committed suicide. Some current players have retired young, including Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly, just 28.
Some 100 million fans will watch Kansas City and San Francisco battle it out in the next Super Bowl, "in what may be America’s foremost annual display of mass hypocrisy," Gregory claims. "... As a sportswriter who’s relished the opportunity to park myself in multiple Super Bowl press boxes, I’m even more compromised. Not only have I introduced my son to a problematic game, writing about it is part of my job."
Jim Taylor, a California psychologist specializing in sports and parenting, shares Gregory's contempt for football. "By watching football, 'you’re gaining enjoyment from other people’s suffering,' he says. 'There’s no doubt about that.' We house conflicting thoughts in our brain: Football is dangerous; we love football. To ease this inherent conflict, we can either quit football cold–or at least cut back on consumption–or talk ourselves into minimizing its risks. ..."
Taylor says we are hedonistic beings who choose the path that gives us "the utmost pleasure. Not only am I a co-conspirator, now I’m making my kids a co-conspirator. ... "
Michael Bennett McNulty, a professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota and a former fan who's tuned out football, says viewers of the game are complicit in its physical toll on players. “Without all the individuals supporting the sport, the harms wouldn’t happen. Saying one is complicit is right and justified.”
Gregory and his son agree there’s a lot to dislike about football, but "there’s still so much I love. So even as I feel some guilt about what I’m watching, I continue to tune in week after week, often with my impressionable teenage boy by my side. Abandoning the game would not just alter his fall Sunday routine but cause parental resentment my heart couldn’t bear." Football may bring them joy, but it's not unadulterated, he writes.
No wonder the conflicted Gregory says he feels like a hypocrite.