Loving Football and Science is Complicated

Last night was the biggest football night of the year, as you may have heard. There’s a big game called the Super Bowl, where two teams of men throw and chase a ball to score points and go home with a big shiny trophy.

This game has been a part of my life since I was in the womb; I grew up in a VERY football-centric home, where I supported Peyton Manning from the ‘98 draft until his retirement in ‘16. So let’s just say...this sport has always been part of my life.

On the other hand, I am a woman of science. I regularly read new interesting research and that includes studies linking CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused by frequent concussions) and football. 

CTE awareness has been increasing over the last decade, with the groundbreaking research occurring right here at Boston University. One of the most notable cases of CTE occurred in the late Aaron Hernandez, a former New England Patriot who was accused of multiple murders, before he committed suicide.

My biggest struggle with football is accountability. The NFL, despite relatively clear research, has continuously refuted claims that CTE and football are connected. Moreover, the NFL is mostly made up of POC players, with the biggest category being African-Americans. Most sports, especially football and basketball, thrive on impoverished POC who have deeply ingrained beliefs that sports are the way out [of poverty]. Quite literally, last night’s game had a Kia advertisement in which an Oakland Raider’s player openly stated that he pushed himself in football to get out of homelessness.

When I first started grappling with the lack of accountability in the NFL, I thought it would be easy to come to a conclusion and balance my negative feelings about the organization with my love for the sport. Unfortunately, the reality is that we live in the gray area and it’s possible to appreciate football while adamantly rejecting the institution that carries it.

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