December 5, 2021

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Is It Ethical to Be a Football Fan?

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[MUSIC PLAYING]

jane coaston

Today on The Argument, I love football, but should I feel bad about that?

Welcome to the greatest two weeks of the year — the start of football season.

archived recording

214 days ago, the Buccaneers became the first team to win the Super Bowl on their home field. And tonight, the fans back, full capacity. The ball is fumbled and taken away by Cincinnati.

jane coaston

I’m Jane Coaston. I grew up a Cincinnati Bengals fan by way of my dad. Every Sunday, we’d watch games together, and every Sunday, I’d get more and more invested in the game. The Bengals were terrible when I was growing up, historically, awfully, brutally terrible. But I didn’t care. I loved the game. At the University of Michigan, I was one of more than 100,000 fans that filled the stadium during football season. Go blue. Some of the best moments of my whole life happened in that stadium, watching that team.

archived recording

One second left, Michigan trailing by 4. Henne fires to the end zone. Touchdown, Manningham! Michigan wins!

jane coaston

But as much as I love to watch the game, truly, absolutely love it, football doesn’t always make it easy to love. Because for all the strategy and gymnastics, you’re watching men get brutally hit multiple times over in the span of hours. I remember one of those moments so clearly. It was the 2007 Michigan State, Wisconsin game.

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Here comes the full blitz over the middle. Oh, what a hit! And I hope Jefferson’s OK. This was heard outside of the stadium.

jane coaston

There are a lot of hits in football. This was the kind of hit that makes your stomach sink. You hope they’re OK. You hope they’re alive. Kyle Jefferson, the young man that got hit, got up and jogged off the field. He suffered two serious concussions his freshman and sophomore years as a player for Wisconsin. As a fan, it’s those moments that make me reluctant to turn on the TV, not to mention team owners that don’t care about the players. And an audience doesn’t seem to care very much either. I love football, but sometimes I really, really, really wish I didn’t. My guests today are the two sides of my brain on football. Steve Almond is a writer and author of Against Football, One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto. And Kevin Clark covers football for the online sports and culture publication, The Ringer.

I started watching the Bengals because my dad watched the Bengals. And at first, I didn’t really get it. And then you just keep watching every Sunday, every Sunday, every Sunday. And then after years, I’m into this sport. This is what I want to do. I am fascinated by it because I started seeing it in the way that my dad did, which was watching 60 different little chess matches where every play is like, what do you do, what do they do. Steve, you have a different perspective on football now, but when you did watch football, how did you get into it?

steve almond

I was an Oakland Raiders fan. I grew up in the Bay Area. And they were very good. But they were also always losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers or almost always losing in kind of tragic, innovative ways that leave this permanent scar.

jane coaston

Oh, I know what that’s like.

steve almond

Yes.

jane coaston

I know what that’s like.

steve almond

Right, right, so there is an aspect of almost like Christic — the suffering of the body and the suffering of the fan that is wrapped up in all of this. And so the Raiders were very good, but they also were always sort of blowing it or often blowing it. And so my older brother was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, so there was some of that crazy, male, competitive, aggressive energy. And you learn it, as you were talking about. It’s so strategically dense. I think of football as the Doritos of the athletic industrial complex. It’s so perfectly engineered to hit the bliss point between brutal aggression and risk and bodies that are flying around and grace and almost spectacular, balletic grace. And I remember, in addition to being a fan of the Raiders, I sold hot dogs and malts and stuff at the Stanford games. And Stanford was terrible. That’s the town I grew up in, Palo Alto. But John Elway was the quarterback when I was selling hot dogs and malts and whatever. And you just never — if you understand, start to become indoctrinated into the rules of football, when somebody is as miraculously gifted physically as John Elway, it’s just a wonderful, amazing thing to see people make miracles with their bodies. So I remember Elway being chased 25 yards behind the line of scrimmage by nine homicidal linebackers and throwing the ball off his back heel 80 yards down the field to the one other person in the entire stadium who knew that he could do that, which was one of his wide receivers, who caught the ball like it was a pop fly. And everybody in the stadium is looking at that ball and just going, my God, to see that kind of greatness, that kind of miraculous poise and courage and physical prowess, I think that’s what hooks us in and keeps us hooked in.

jane coaston

Kevin, how did you get into caring about football or thinking about football as this thing that you wanted to be a part of and know more about?

kevin clark

So when I was four or five, I think my mom taught me the rules of football in a park by our house, a little Florida State football, which was the big team at the time. And I didn’t really have an option. To borrow the phrase from Ted Lasso, football is life in Florida. And so, there’s this energy when you go into a Publix on a Saturday or Sunday where everyone’s just going to talk about the Gators game or the Hurricanes game or the Seminoles game or the next day, the Jaguars game or the Bucs game. And so, it never really felt like a choice to become a football fan. That’s just kind of what you were. And that’s what social life was built around. I mean, there were so many people who used to describe going to University of Florida games for some people was like their country club. They would go and they would see it, and they would see all the people they went to college with 20 years earlier. It would be a reunion. And so it was tied into the social fabric, I would say, of the state. And that shaded everything else.

jane coaston

Something I know, Steve, you’ve changed your position on watching football. And you wrote a book titled Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto. And lots of sports have problems. Lots of sports have problems that are deeply embedded into the sport. Football is one of the few sports I can think of where the problem is the sport and how it is played. When did you start to reevaluate your relationship with football? Did you have a specific moment that was like, that’s it. That’s the change. This is over for me.

steve almond

When I was 11 years old, 10 or 11 years old, in a preseason game, I was watching the Raiders play the New England Patriots. And Darryl Stingley, the star receiver, again, preseason game, came across the middle. And Jack Tatum, who was known as the enforcer because of his vicious hits on receivers, hit Stingley, and Stingley fell to the ground in a position that immediately, everybody could see was unnatural. And he did not get up because his fourth and fifth vertebrae had been broken. So that’s, Jane, kind of seeing that and the player doesn’t pop up. Like, I remember in Jerry Maguire, there’s a play where a player gets hurt, and everybody thinks it’s going to be a terrible outcome. And then there’s this sort of Lazarus effect of, oh, he’s OK. These guys are so miraculous. Well, this was not that. This was a catastrophic hit that resulted in paralysis. And I remember, at age 11, just thinking to myself two thoughts. One, well, they can’t play this sport anymore because people can get paralyzed just playing it. And that adult world is clearly not going to let that happen. And also, the corresponding thought, which was, oh, my God, I’m going to lose football. Against Football, the title is sort of provocative, but what it really is an attempt for the two parts of me to have a conversation somewhat like this conversation. The part that hears football and thinks, oh, my God, who’s playing? What’s their record? What might happen? And the part that thinks about the morality of the sport, which I think I agree. People try to say, well, football has a concussion problem or a violence problem. Football has a physics and physiology problem. The game, as it is played right now in this incredibly lucrative football industrial complex, is simply so dangerous that by the NFL’s own accounting, up to a third of their players, their actuaries estimate are going to wind up with chronic traumatic encephalopathy or some form of brain damage. And there’s no other workplace in America where we would tolerate that. We wouldn’t tolerate it even in the military. We wouldn’t tolerate it in an Amazon warehouse. But because it’s within the sanctum of this remarkably entertaining and unifying game — I mean, you guys are all talking about the sense of community that you felt and connectedness to family members, to community. That is what football is. It’s a place of refuge for people in a culture that’s incredibly fragmented.

jane coaston

Kevin, I’m interested because you’re a writer and a reporter on the sport. This sport clearly means a lot to you. And obviously, you haven’t stopped watching it. Was there a moment — have you ever seen something where you’re just like, I don’t know if I can keep going with this? In my old job, I used to focus mostly on conservatism. And one of the ways that I would start talking to people is if they had something on their profile or if I knew something about them, where it’s like, oh, they’re into football. I’m like, oh, we can talk about that for days. But did you have an experience of that, like, I don’t know about this, Kevin?

kevin clark

So I think you reckon with that every day you’re a football writer. I do a training camp tour every single year. And they last three weeks. And it’s 90 guys vying for 53 spots. And really, because there’s a handful of stars, it’s really, like, 40 guys vying for four spots, if you look at the actual numbers. And the amount of times you’ll see an injury and they’ll just — so, just to explain it, there’ll be a drill. And some 22-year-old who has $20,000 in the bank will tear an Achilles or whatever. And they’ll kind of tap him on the shoulder and just move the drill 10 feet to the left, as that player gets treatment for something that is going to ruin his livelihood for the rest of his life, right? I think that there’s certain things with the player pay, whether that’s split contracts where players get paid less if they get hurt, even though, obviously, that threatens their livelihood, the franchise tag, which, if your listeners don’t know, essentially keeps players in place if the team wanted to for three years after their contract ends. There’s so many things that kind of make me a little bit queasy about the game. But I continue on. I mean, I think that there’s obviously huge problems with the game, but it can be saved. It can be made safer. When everybody’s safe, when it can be made safer, when you hear the stories about 1980s football or even early 2000s football — I remember talking to a player named Channing Crowder with the Dolphins when I was really young. And we did an interview. And he said he thinks he gets a concussion every single game. That really wouldn’t fly now. There are actual independent doctors on the sidelines. The hitting is different. The rules are different. There’s a little more protections for the players. I am hugely skeptical of any sort of “progress,” quote unquote, made in the league to make things better or safer. But I will say, as a whole, the game has gotten better for players as far as that goes. It will never be fully safe, but it has gotten safer. And it can continue to get safer. There are very easy guidelines that teams and doctors and players can follow that will make it better every day.

steve almond

So I want to gently push back on that, not because I don’t respect — you know. You’re inside and out reporting. But I just want to step back for a second and point out something that I just didn’t know until I started doing more research, which is that the real danger long-term in playing football, because you have to remember, anybody who gets to the NFL has already played football for at least a dozen years and competitive football. And what we know is that it’s the accretion of subconcussive events, those small, little car accidents that are happening on every play, where the brain, a soft organ, is shaken against the hard shell of the skull by the force of impact that is baked into the game. Jane, this is what I think you meant when you said the problem is the game. That happens every practice. It happens every scrimmage. It happens every game. They estimate about 1,500 subconcussive events a season. And it’s the accretion of all of those subconcussive events that causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy and other kinds of brain illness. This is why the NFL’s actuaries — once again, the NFL’s actuaries — estimated that about 30% of players are going to wind up with some form of brain illness because of all those subconcussive hits. And the thing is, there would be things that you could do to make the game safer. You could add weight limits immediately since, as Kevin knows, all these guys are unnaturally bulking up. And they’re doing that because the incentive structure is if you want to make the team, you’ve got to get big. So you could put weight limits tomorrow that would decrease the danger of the game significantly. Less mass, less force in each of the hits. You could also have a helmet now that records subconcussive hits. And just like you have a pitcher on a pitch count, you could have a player’s brain, essentially. If they’ve absorbed too many subconcussive hits, too much G-Force, then they’re put to the sidelines. This would change the incentive structure within the game to avoid big hits because you get yanked from the game. But that’s not going to happen. None of those things are going to happen. There are all these things that we could do that would appreciably make the game safer, more equitable, more just in some basic way. None of that stuff is going to happen, until the fans who built the industrial complex recognize that we are the ones in charge. None of it changes in a big corporation. Everybody loves a bacon cheeseburger, but nobody wants to visit the slaughterhouse.

kevin clark

And just the way the game is played, I think a vertical passing game makes the game safer. There’s a book called Paper Lion by George Plimpton that I think about a lot because it’s an incredible document about football in the ‘60s. And Raymond Berry, who was one of the best wide receivers of all time, talked about how the middle of the field was called the pit. And the reason was because if you went in there once, you never went in there again because it’s just bodies flying. It’s huge guys. As you said, there is no weight limit. And they’re just hitting the crap out of each other. And that doesn’t exist anymore. The middle of the field is wide open. You cannot hit a defenseless receiver anymore. And so I think that the game has changed to make it less violent. I would say that for most positions, you’re getting hit less than you did 20 years ago. But from a youth perspective, there’s no reason to take those, as you said, Steve, subconcussive hits. And that, to me, needs to change at the practice level, at the youth level. If it’s a Friday before a college football game, there’s no reason for a player to do that. And so, yeah, there needs to be wholesale changes, but I think that that kind of has happened. And one of the things when the concussion lawsuit came out a couple of years ago, Steve, one of the main arguments that the NFL had was how do you know the NFL gave you brain damage? Because you played 8,000 snaps before you even got to the NFL. And as cynical as that is, it also speaks to how broken the entire football system is.

steve almond

Yeah, I mean, I want to just say about the NFL, their record in terms of recognizing the danger to their employees has been about on par with the tobacco industries in their strategy. They basically created a bunch of junk science to try to obfuscate what was becoming increasingly clear. And now that they can’t deny it, they’re frantically trying to keep it out of court. That is a league that is a $10 billion, probably more than that. Kevin, you could tell me. But that is a huge economic engine. So —

kevin clark

Yeah, it’s going to be $25 billion in about five years.

steve almond

Right, and anything they do is going to be done because it is in their financial interests. It’s gotten bigger than any particular moral actor. It’s capitalism on steroids. I want to just say one quick thing about playing in high school. And that’s to point out — and these are things that I don’t bring up with any glee because, again, I think the people who are devoted to high school football, both the players and their families, they see it as a refuge, a potential source of meaning and salvation. And that is real. But in terms of the damage out at Purdue University, they did this — they began monitoring every hit sustained by two high school teams. And they were trying to study the effect of concussions. And so the researchers administered cognitive tests to players who had never been concussed because they wanted to set up a control group. But as the season wore on, what they realized was that the cognitive abilities of all the players plummeted, even if they hadn’t gotten a concussion. And in some cases, brain activity in the frontal lobes, which is the region responsible for reasoning, had nearly disappeared by season’s end. And so we should sort of take a deep breath and think about how psychotic that is. Because if you had something on a high school campus, like an invisible gas leak in the cafeteria that was causing diminished brain activity in students, we can safely assume that district officials would shut down the schools. Parents would be up in arms. The media and lawyers would be up in arms. Politicians would be bloviating endlessly about all of this. And because it’s within the context of football, not only is that conversation not happening, but we are filling stadiums and cheering.

jane coaston

Part of this has to do with the fact that, as you both have said, is that fans play a role here. Viewership of the NFL, of college football, and in places where high school football’s a big deal, is steady.

kevin clark

So football is the last thing Americans do en masse. And it’s actually amazing to look at the numbers because every other sport, as you alluded to earlier, has basically tanked over the past — I don’t know — decade. And that’s all of television. So league meetings 15 years ago maybe, they would say, here’s what the NFL ratings are compared to the NBA or the World Series or hockey. And it became such a route that now they only do it against the Big Bang Theory. Or they can’t show owners any number that impresses them because having the highest rated show doesn’t matter anymore. It is such a given. And so, for me, when I think about how Americans process this, there is a total lack of humanity. And you can see this even within NFL buildings when a player gets hurt, and they will complain openly that nobody even talks to them. I mean, it’s like they become a bit of a pariah, frankly. The appealing thing about football, aside from the fact it looks great on television, is that you can get into it at any level. If you just want to watch Patrick Mahomes move the ball down the field and do cool things, you can do that. If you want to appreciate what Patrick Mahomes does when he goes against only one deep safety, you can do that at a completely different level. And so, you can spend all the time you want diagnosing the plays or none at all, and you can enjoy it basically the same. And yet, I don’t think many people ask Patrick Mahomes how he’s doing very often. I don’t think that ever happens with the guy who is 52nd on the roster. And I think that when these guys have to confront that, they have some uncomfortable truths because they’re never told to think as anything other than a football player. It’s all the team, the team, the team. And I think that there’s probably a reckoning coming in the next few years when we talk about players and how they view themselves — and other sports have already had this where we talk about the mental health aspect. There is almost no introspection in NFL locker rooms. And that, to me, is the next frontier of, I would say, football humanity.

steve almond

Yeah. It’s so interesting to hear you guys’ comments because, really, introspection is the enemy of instinct.

kevin clark

Yeah.

steve almond

And these guys have to behave instinctually and in a way that is dangerous. If you are a middle linebacker, you cannot be thinking about the medical effect of a hard hit that you deliver on yourself or on the wide receiver tight end, whose job it is to keep them off the field, or at least, out of your part of the field. They’re unable to do their job through brute force. That’s it. And the ultimate message that football is sending to young players of whatever race or socioeconomic status is that they’re valuable not for the content of their character or their intelligence or their creativity, but for how fast they can run and how well they can throw and catch and especially how hard they can hit. Think about the NFL combine, in which white owners — that’s the language they use — evaluate almost entirely young men of color, most of them from poor neighborhoods, on the basis of what? How high they can jump, how fast they can run, how well they can catch a ball. And I am taking nothing away from the remarkable athleticism of all those things. But it’s a value system. [MUSIC PLAYING]

archived recording

This is Tim Vandenberg of Ogden, Utah. I’m really perplexed that so many of my fellow citizens claim to want smaller government when, in reality, they seem to support most of what government actually spends it money on — things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense, border security, health research, and education. Similarly, I’m kind of perplexed that these same people often claim to want less regulation, but at the same time, they really like FDIC bank insurance. They like drug and food safety regulation, not to mention clean air and clean water. What am I missing here?

jane coaston

Hi, Tim. This is a good question. But I think that one thing we need to remember is that people’s political priorities and people’s political understandings are really complicated because voters are complicated people. It’s the same reason why people hate Congress, but love their congressperson. A lot of people’s politics are very personal. And personal doesn’t just mean that they had a personal experience that explains how they think about this political event, but also in that maybe it just makes sense to them. Thanks for calling.

What are you arguing about with your family, your friends, your frenemies? Tell me about the big debate you’re having in a voicemail by calling 347-915-4324, and we might play an excerpt of it on a future episode. I’ve written about football. I love football. I have never played football, but I do wonder if you see that as impacting my or anyone else’s understanding of the game to have never played it.

steve almond

The reason that we won’t quit the NFL is because we accrue none of the risk. The reason people quit smoking is because they were the ones getting cancer. But we can sit on our couches, as you were talking about, Jane, and yell at that middle linebacker for missing the tackle. And we’re really divorced from them. I think this is different than other games. Football is far more violent and dangerous, but it is sanitized. We don’t see the broken bones.

jane coaston

They go to commercial very fast if something bad happens.

steve almond

That’s right. And the reality is that we just as fans are insulated from the most violent and, I would say, physically violent parts of the game, but also the most morally violent. I think about the decisions that are made about how taxpayer money is allocated to build these big, beautiful stadiums in New Orleans or Baltimore or wherever it is. And almost all of the money is funneled from the public till into the pockets of billionaire owners. And that is public money that is not going to schools, that it’s not going to job opportunities and communities that desperately need it. That is a kind of economic violence. And the fan does not think about that for a second when they’re watching the game.

jane coaston

Kevin, you’ve talked about changes to the game in terms of pay. There have also been significant rule changes. What comes next? What do you think the game needs to do to bring someone like Steve back fully?

kevin clark

OK, so there’s a couple of things here. So football, they know they need to maintain some level of collision, right? That’s the old line. Football is not a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. And they understand that. But I think that they can kind of mitigate the risk and just sort of drape themselves in the illusion that this is a safe game. It will never be that safe. But they know they have to protect, I think, a $15 billion industry. A couple of years ago, Jane, during the Ray Rice stuff —

jane coaston

I want to interrupt very quickly. Ray Rice was a former Rutgers and then Ravens running back who was arrested after punching his then fiancee in an elevator. And it was horrifying and bad and really got to the heart of how, at the time, the NFL was very into selling you a pink jersey, but when it came to domestic violence committed by players, the NFL was way more like, whoa — they were not good.

kevin clark

So after the Ray Rice scandal, my editor had said, why don’t you call around to find out what would happen if the NFL stopped being the most popular thing in the world? And I called all of these people inside the sport, outside the sport. First of all, they couldn’t even grasp the idea. They didn’t even understand the thought exercise of the idea that the NFL wouldn’t be the most popular thing in the world, they wouldn’t be this juggernaut. But what I kept hearing was you don’t understand what football is to America. It’s not just a sport. It props up literally cable television, network television, the beer industry because of advertising, the entire advertising industry, Las Vegas. It’s like the car industry collapsing if football collapsed. And it would have 2008 all over again. It’s such a different way to look at it. Football sees itself as a pillar of American society. And it’s a mirror of society. I mean, you have to remember, a lot of these owners are billionaires, at least on paper, because they own a billion dollar property. And they’ve already negotiated with their own employees. And they’ve won these labor battles. And so now they’re just doing it again on the football side. They understand that they have the leverage. And I would say about 25% of things the NFL owners have done and the NFL league office has done to make the game safer are actually real. And then a lot of them are just cosmetic to make everybody feel a little bit better about the sport that we’re watching.

jane coaston

We haven’t even got into the fact that NFL contracts are not guaranteed and that the NFL has used a lot of creative ways to avoid paying players in many instances. With all of that said, Steve, is there anything that at the college level or the NFL level or the game writ large that could change, that would make you say, like, I’m back, let’s do this. What would make you send out the Michael Jordan fax, I’m back?

steve almond

I don’t think anybody cares if I’m back, honestly. I think what’s so interesting about this conversation is, it’s like when people try to justify some activity, a belief or behavior based on mass appeal and the absence of any kind of moral consideration, that’s not democracy. That’s mob rule. When you have a country that says that its central incentives are money and winning, it is not a surprise that we wind up with a government or a sort of demagogue who essentially expresses that exact same set of values and incentives. I don’t see those things as separate. And ultimately, football’s a game. People speak about it because they get emotionally involved with it, as if somehow turning away from it would leave this gaping hole in their entire existence. And to my way of thinking, the question is, is there some other set of possibilities if we can get ourselves off of the idea that sports is the purest expression of power, of grace, of sort of making your destiny and your presence known in the world? I get sort of tripped out by how much people try to create a world in which football is just inevitable. It just has to happen. It is just the only thing. We couldn’t remove it. I get why the game’s amazing. But art is also amazing. And the stars are also amazing. Protecting the vote for everybody who wants to vote and is a citizen is amazing. There’s a lot of places where people can put their time and energy that aren’t a game.

jane coaston

Yeah, but the stars, have you ever seen the stars run Tampa 2? I’ve never seen the stars in a 3-4.

steve almond

The stars also haven’t given the guy running Tampa 2 brain damage.

jane coaston

That’s true — as far as we know. During the pandemic, when there was basically no sports, and I had somehow also just gotten ESPN+ the degree to which I was like, I will watch anyone do literally anything. So I got into watching the Super Rugby in New Zealand and Australia. Kevin, your job is football. Your job is dependent on this. And so, how would you respond to kind of the idea of thinking beyond or without football?

kevin clark

Yeah, my livelihood is not so tied into it as Patrick Mahomes. Patrick Mahomes has, I think, $480 million still coming to him. So he would take a bigger hit than I would if football ceased to exist. But every day you decide to continue to cover football is a choice. And I understand the drawbacks to it. And I think part of it is shining a light on some of this stuff. Post 2011 CBA — Collective Bargaining Agreement — essentially, what happened was that the salaries flipped. And young players became very, very, very cheap. And so you have players who can star at the NFL level if they’re undrafted free agents for two years, get injured, not get a second contract, and they barely have enough to afford a down payment on a house, something like that, right? There’s a lot of horror stories of guys who are the best player ever in their hometown, best player in college, get to the NFL level, don’t stick, and are working warehouse jobs 18 months later, sometimes less. They’re a security guard at their high school because they need access to a gym. They don’t have the money. And you have to tell those stories. And so if I sat here, if I was on this podcast and came here and said football is great, football is perfect, which, by the way, you can find many writers who will say that, then that’s a different choice I’m making. We can say, OK, we like this game. We find it interesting. We find it fascinating. We find the characters fascinating. Every sport has its drawbacks. The NFL has more drawbacks than others. And managing that and working through that is probably a healthy part of football fandom. I would say that there’s probably people who never do any analyzing of their football fandom. And those people are worse off for it. I think everybody should go through the existential thing, where we say, why are we watching this? Why do I keep watching it? And you probably come out the other side being a smarter and more interesting football fan.

jane coaston

One thing that we can all come together and say is that Ohio State is terrible and that they’re bad people. But thank you so much, both of you, for having this conversation. You have given me a lot to think about. There is a Cowboys-Buccaneers game on that I am 100% sure I’m going to find very boring. And I’m still going to watch it. Steve Almond, writer and author of Against Football, and Kevin Clark, writer and reporter at The Ringer, thank you both so much.

steve almond

Oh, it was a lot of fun. Thanks, guys.

kevin clark

Yeah, thanks for having me. [MUSIC PLAYING]

jane coaston

Steve Almond is a writer and author of the book, Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto. And Kevin Clark is a writer and reporter at The Ringer, who has covered football for nearly a decade. If you want to learn more about the history of football and the studies done to better understand concussions and CTE, I recommend reading Paper Lion by George Plimpton about football in the 1960s. If you want to learn more about the links between football and CTE, you should look at the research done by Christine Baugh, assistant professor at the University of Colorado. And if you’re looking to get smart, passionate analysis of the game, check out Kevin Clark and his colleagues reporting over at The Ringer. You can find links to all of these in our episode notes. Finally, I know that in the scheme of things, climate change, COVID, race relations, whether or not to watch football can seem like small potatoes. But sometimes the show isn’t just about the arguments you’re having. It’s about the ones I’m having with myself. And maybe your arguments aren’t about football. They’re about whether you can still enjoy that movie with the guy who did the terrible thing or if it’s OK if you don’t agree with that book everyone’s talking about on Facebook. That’s why I love doing this show, because we’ve all got arguments, even if the only person we’re having them with is ourselves. The Argument is production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Phoebe Lett, Elisa Gutierrez, and Vishakha Darbha; edited by Alison Bruzek and Sarah Geis; with original music and mixing by Isaac Jones; additional engineering by Carol Sabouraud; fact-checking by Kate Sinclair; and audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks this week to Kristin Lin.

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