Last Sunday, a strange thing happened. I woke up, did some reading, worked on a few stories, talked to some friends on the telephone for a while, went to the gym, made dinner and got back into bed, thinking, "Not a bad day." And then I realized it: I hadn't watched football. Hadn't even thought to. Even more shocking? I didn't miss it. I've kicked my football addiction, something that has plunged me into fantasy football drafts, mired me in ESPN time-sucks and has, in all, addled my senses for decades.
No more. That was the old me. Something that most people may not think about is that the NFL is horrifically addicting. And there's been a lot of thought put into how to make it that way. The wizards behind the curtain have mastered the psychological equivalent of heroine meets Justin Bieber. The NFL's everywhere, always entertaining, always something I -- and many -- couldn't turn away from.
Until I somehow could. Because of ESPN and the NFL network, I was convinced there was all this information out there that the Public Needed To Know, which under different circumstances I would have found ridiculous. Last spring, Tony Romo said he wouldn't watch the NFL draft, deriding it as "monotonous" and "boring." This drove fans and commentators into apoplexy: Was this somehow un-American? But you know what, Tony? Fuck yeah. Let's be honest -- the draft's totally boring. Still, millions of people watch it, along with any other insipid factoid ESPN ejects into the ether.
Why? Because we're told to. We track what's happening at the NFL owners' meetings, even though what's going down isn't anything more than a bunch of suited white dudes talking over some nonsense -- which happens precisely every day in every office building. Why do we care so much? Because games only occur once a week. And usually there's nothing else to fill what should be a once-a-week news cycle, but has somehow morphed into a 24-7 one.
This ruse has been maintained by an endless volley of questions: Will Michael Vick get hurt this week? How would untested backup Nick Foles handle the starting job? Who's gonna get knocked in the mouth this week in a game of smash-mouth football? And we lap it all up, secreting away the information to "better understand the game," or impress buddies with a casually dropped nugget of football prescience.
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SHOW ME HOW
ESPN's questions never end, but at least they're honest questions. Football isn't trying to be anything it isn't, and it isn't trying to win over any nonbelievers. Instead, it employs -- and employs aggressively -- what can only be thought of as the George W. Bush Offensive. Here's what that means: The entire invention of modern-day football is to invigorate those who already love football. Juice up the base. There's nothing more to it than that. And the addicts gorge on all the irrelevance.
Again, there's nothing surreptitious about this. The NFL doesn't try to guilt you into watching it like baseball does, which makes you feel obliged to tune in because, gosh darn it, it's "America's pastime." And it's not like soccer, which globalized liberals say you should follow if you want to understand the world. Nope, this shit -- football -- is distinctly American, and we watch not out of guilt or any larger commitment, but because it's fun. I just don't understand everything else about it, or why we switch to NFL Countdown on a Tuesday afternoon to stare at what amounts to nothingness.
And this is why I stopped watching ESPN, and, ultimately, football. At first I stopped doing fantasy football. Then I stopped following the NFL Scouting Combine, drafts, off-season workouts, whether or not Ray Lewis has decided to retire yet, or if anyone cares. And then I stopped caring. And when you stop caring about all the nonsense swirling around the NFL, it makes it profoundly easier to stop watching football itself.
Which is why I did. And I don't miss it.