Ethical Football

It’s hard to watch American football these days. That’s too bad because I used to love it.

File Under: Sports

It’s hard watching professional sports these days, and it’s hardest watching American football, which is too bad because I used to love it.

While I have told the story of how I got into American football many, many times, I confess that I am no longer sure if the events actually took place. Nevertheless, here it is: when I was in my single digits, sometime in the early 1980s, living in North London, I turned on the TV (back when you actually had to turn something to get it to work) and, for the first time, saw American football. I was captivated.

ethical football niners Montana rice

The game was between the Los Angeles Rams (Eric Dickerson and all) and the San Francisco 49ers (the “Montana to Rice!” era). At some point while watching that game I fell in love with the sport and decided that I would select the winner of the game as my team. Little did I know that the 49ers were playing some of the best football of all time and so I became an avid Niners fan. For most of the subsequent 30 years, I followed the team closely.

Fast forward more than thirty years and today I find myself in a different mindset.

What I see when I have watched football in recent years is commercialization at its worst; the glorification of alcoholism (sometimes I think that football is just a delivery system for bad beer); the deeply troubling sportification of war and the military; the objectification of women (still with the cheerleaders? really?!?!); the curtailment of free speech (in a word: Kaepernick); and an exhibition of Coliseum-style brutality that leaves players with debilitating physical and neurological injuries that sometimes lead to death or suicide.

Moreover, consider the fact that the least valuable team in the NFL is worth around 1.5 billion dollars and that, in 2016 alone, the NFL’s revenue was greater than 13 billion dollars. Imagine what could be achieved if those dollars were invested in healthcare, or education, or homelessness, or…, or… the opportunities are endless.

At some point in the future, I imagine that people will look back and wonder how we could have gotten it so wrong. But let’s not wait until then. We can make the change now.

Now go outside and throw a ball around with your kids… just for fun.

Rabbi Darren Kleinberg

Rabbi Darren Kleinberg

Darren Kleinberg is Head of School at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, CA. He received his doctorate in 2014 and was ordained in 2005. The title of his recently published book is Hybrid Judaism: Irving Greenberg, Encounter, and the Changing Nature of American Jewish Identity (Academic Studies Press, 2016).