Does football need saving? Author of “Against Football” and notable Oakland Raiders fan—or former Raiders fan, I should say—Steve Almond says yes.
Until four days ago, I hadn’t heard of Almond or his campaign against the NFL and the NCAA. I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and somehow stumbled upon Almond’s long-form piece. It was the most stimulating 20 minutes of my entire summer—or, at least, close to it.
Almond contends that football, along with other factors like violent video games and movies, plays a massive role in promoting violence in America and that the sport consequently needs to undergo massive reform. As he explains, “Those who pose as the industry's critics have to pretend awfully hard that they hate violence and misogyny and greed and homophobia while at the same time promoting a game that is, objectively speaking, violent, misogynistic, mercenary, and homophobic.”
Almond’s solution is to stop following football. He wants to take a stand and raise awareness for what he has termed as America’s violent addiction to the sport.
While I don’t entirely agree with Almond’s solution, a happy medium does exist. Between eschewing the sport completely and pretending like a few multimillion dollar settlements will suddenly fix everything.
Almond, for example, mentions that numerous pundits believe the NCAA’s $70 million settlement with college athletes will suddenly fix the issues related to head trauma. Obviously, that isn’t true. Concussions and diseases like dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy are unfortunately an aspect of the sport that cannot be overlooked. College athletes, as well as professional athletes, cannot be left to rot at the expense of greedy profiteers, and we as fans of the sport have the responsibility to advocate on behalf of these athletes.
We the fans need to start caring more, not less. Let’s collectively abandon the paradigm in which the well-being of the team always supersedes the well-being of the players. Please, let’s begin to concern ourselves with the tremendous athletes that make up our favorite teams and view these athletes as human beings.
It is a mentality that extends beyond the issue of concussions. Almond isn’t the first or last pundit to scrutinize how marginalized groups are viewed within most football circles. That outlook needs to change. The acceptance of Michael Sam was a great step in the right direction, but, as Almond argues, in the year 2014, virtually no other organization would feel the need to celebrate the arrival of its first openly gay employee.
Once again, I believe the fans must intervene. It’s undeniable that the average fan, as an outsider of the quasi-secret football fraternity, carries less clout on this particular issue than, say, the average college football coach. Nonetheless, significant outside pressure from the fans would be a crucial step to making football a more hospitable environment for people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations.
Change is hard. Change is often slow. That doesn’t mean that we, as fans of the Columbia football team or fans of the sport, should suddenly stop supporting the team, nor does it mean that we should scream our lungs out beginning Sept. 20 against Fordham, oblivious of the concerns raised by people like Steve Almond. His arguments represent an important perspective to consider in striving to bring reform to the world of football, which has in many ways fallen out of touch with its surroundings.
Football is America’s game. Let’s hope that in a progressive country that grows more diverse by the day, we can still say that for years to come.
Daniel Radov is a Columbia College sophomore. Free Advice runs biweekly.