The Inevitable Pain of Football Season

Couches around the United States are girding their loins. It’s football season.

You know it because even though the days are still too bloody hot, all of a sudden there’s a hint — just a whisper, a faint whiff — of fall in the mornings before the sun comes up. You know it because school’s been back in for weeks and you just need that release of watching large men knock each other around in a sophisticated war simulation. You know it because you can’t not know it: football takes over the airwaves like a soccer-mom-driven Hummer swooping across six lanes of traffic on I-75.

Football season.

I’m from the South, (you can tell because I capitalize “South” as if it’s an actual place and not merely a cardinal direction) where football is as much a religion as a pastime, so it’s somehow baked into my DNA to get hyped come this time of year. Football season. Hell yes. Burgers and beers and rivalries and lots and lots of hours spent on the couch (and jumping off of it).

Of course, football is problematic these days. To be clear, it’s always been problematic, we just didn’t know quite how problematic until recently. It’s essentially been proven to do some form of brain damage over time to anybody who plays (for a good look at this, I heartily recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History” podcast. Excellent in general, but he did a deep dive on CTE and it’s … shocking to say the least). It seems ethically questionable to partake in such a pastime; it’s not that far removed from the days of the Coliseum when viewed through that lens, except the players don’t die right in front of you, they die years after the fact, wracked by brain disease.

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

And then there’s the question of pain. Not the physical pain of the players, which is immediate enough and severe enough that it should give us pause. But the mental pain of the viewers, the fans. The pain we choose.

I recently read Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson, which is an analysis of pain in the modern world and a treatise on choosing the pain that you can live with. Not about eliminating pain — that’s impossible, claims Manson, and I tend to agree — but choosing pain you can endure. For example, I love my current job teaching theatre to high school students — but there is still pain associated with it that I didn’t have when I was just a run-of-the-mill English teacher: long hours after school, dealing with my students’ emotional issues (which they share with me now on a level I was really not prepared for from teaching English), deadlines and demands on creativity. These things put pressure on me (and by extension, those that love me), but on the whole, the goods outweigh the bads, to oversimplify things to a point of ridiculosity — so I choose that pain.

And to watch sports is to choose pain. Trust me on this. I’m an Atlanta sports fan. I know all about pain from sports, and that’s only going back a few years.

Image result for life is pain

To watch sports is to choose pain. Overwhelmingly so, and for virtually all sports fans. Because, unless you’re an Alabama fan, your team doesn’t win all the time. The nature of the game dictates that they can’t win all the time. In fact, the nature of the game dictates that only one team can win — in the NFL, that’s out of 32 teams; in the NCAA, that’s out of over 100. Everybody else is doomed to lose: either right away so that the losses quickly become demoralizing and sad to watch, or at the last possible moment, so their fans get the exquisite pain of literally tasting victory before having it snatched away, or at any unfortunate point on the spectrum in between.

To watch sports is to choose pain — for almost everybody who chooses to watch, almost all of the time. It stands to reason, then, that we would be mentally happier if we didn’t watch. All that pain — the disappointment, the disillusionment — gone, just by not watching, by not drinking at the fountain of pain.

But because we are human, and we have evolved the dubiously useful skill of acting outside of our best interests, we watch anyway. Despite all the pain. In fact, we seem to relish the pain, to luxuriate in it, even. Which seems supremely silly, when viewed from outside. Yet here I sit, warming up my couch, getting ready to go on the ride again. A fan account for the Atlanta Falcons says the following:

You just know that it’s going to go badly — and probably catastrophically badly — at some point.

But we ride anyway.

We choose the pain.

This is not me telling you that you shouldn’t watch football, or shouldn’t watch sports, period. We choose the pain we can live with. But we can choose it mindfully, knowing what’s in store, rather than choosing it blindly, as if we don’t know the outcome.

Besides, Georgia plays Vanderbilt tonight. Should be a slaughter.

Bring on the pain.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

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About Pavowski

I am a teacher, runner, father, and husband. I am an author-in-progress. I know just enough about a lot of things to get me into a lot of trouble. View all posts by Pavowski

5 responses to “The Inevitable Pain of Football Season

  • J-Dub

    I too am from the South which has always been more than a cardinal direction. LOL.

    What’s not so funny is the CTE stuff. Scary for sure. Not saying not to watch either. Everyone has choices including those who choose to play.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pavowski

      It’s a problem, for sure. The players do have the freedom to choose. But those players also start young, when they have less — I won’t say no freedom, but I’ll say less — freedom to choose. And that’s when the real damage seems to be done, when the brain is still developing.

      I hope my son never asks me if he can try out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • J-Dub

        Ours asked in 1st grade and we said no. Not yet. That was peewee. Meanwhile two of his classmates put rocks in their pocket to make weigh in. He never asked again. Thank goodness.

        Liked by 1 person

  • Glen available

    Coming from Australia, my interest in NFL in recent years has been following ex-rugby league (one of the main footy codes we play over here) players and watching their attempts to crack the big time in U.S football. Jarrod Hayne had mixed success as a running back/return specialist with the San Franciso 49ers back in 2015.

    The latest Aussie to try is Valentine Holmes for the New York Jets. News has come in just this morning Holmes has failed to make it on to their 53 man roster. Apparently the Jets are one of four teams in the NFL who have access to a bonus 11th spot on their practice squad thanks to the International Pathway program.

    That means the most likely scenario for Valentine Holmes is now to land on the practice squad, a role which would see him remain on the sidelines learning the game and training for the season.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pavowski

      I will admit my passion for American football (as I understand it is called outside the States) has waned somewhat since I coached soccer and since Atlanta’s MLS team has come on so strong. An NFL game just seems so slow-paced next to a proper football match.

      Of course, I’ll still be watching. Will keep an eye out for Holmes — that’s a cool story.

      Liked by 1 person

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