I love fall. It’s the best season. The days are shorter, the irrepressible darkness squeezing the wan daylight in its infinite murky vise, shadows growing longer as the feeble sun retreats to the cold reaches of infinite space. So, you save a lot of money on sunblock! Plus if you want to go to the Cape, it’s just you and the hardcore alcoholics. Fall is great.
Have I talked myself into it? Not really. I’m not a pumpkin-spice, sweater-weather Halloween enthusiast. I don’t get fired up when a leaf’s chlorophyll gives way to carotenoids and anthocyanins, although I once drove to Vermont for the express purpose of observing this fascinating annual process. (That trip is in contention for the title of Lamest Thing I’ve Ever Done, right up there with an improv performance I gave in college.) Pretty much everything about fall boils down to, “Well, let’s make the best of it.” As in, “It’s too cold to go to the beach, so let’s get drunk and watch people row boats in the river.” I’m not saying the Head of the Charles isn’t fun, but if it were held in July the crowd would consist of the Winklevoss twins and three ducks.
So what I have, then, is football to bring joy and anticipation to my life. Yes, I am a sad, sad man. But hey, everyone loves a Patriots game, right? Well, sure. That’s part of it. But maybe not even as big a part of fall as fantasy football, an autumn pastime so dorky it makes leaf-peeping look like BASE jumping.
At this point in my life, fantasy football is my primary means of communication with my college buddies. I can’t swear I know the names of all of my friends’ kids, but I know who their backup tight ends are. Throughout the season, text messages sail back and forth with trade proposals, trash talk and even sympathy. (I got some really touching condolences after Tom Brady’s Week 3 performance.) There’s even the theoretical possibility of winning money, though our league finances are somewhere toward the Enron/Bernie Madoff side of the accounting spectrum. All I know is that I PayPal some money each year so I can manage a pretend football team called the Poop Chuters whose logo is the Hamburglar stealing hair extensions—a reference to the time my friend K.J.’s hair-extension store in Dorchester got robbed. See, we have fun.
So why did I contemplate quitting the league this year? Mainly because I’ve become reluctantly woke to the crumminess of the NFL. It’s not a feel-good league, the NFL. It’s a monopoly whose business plan is predicated on head injuries. I mean, I feel bad for Tom Brady. Not Tom Brady now, but Tom Brady 10 or 15 years from now. Am I crazy? Perhaps. But at this point, it’s pretty clear that receiving repeated concussions over a span of decades is not good for you. And then there’s the anthem debate—in which we’re all expected to be at each other’s throats—plus the crazy prices for everything (see: monopoly) and the looming oafish presence of Roger Goodell, a guy who so suavely handled Deflategate that he reportedly asked for $49.5 million a year and lifetime use of a private jet. I am clearly paying too much for NFL Sunday Ticket.
But I can’t help myself. When, in August, the Sunday Ticket app automatically charged my credit card, I begrudgingly let it slide. Because I knew that come September, I’d be greedily flipping through the channels to check in on Saquon Barkley or George Kittle. And that’s exactly what happened. I’m not proud of my behavior.
Complicating matters is the fact that my kids will soon be petitioning to play tackle football. Right now, they play flag football, and it’s great fun to watch 7-year-olds throw wobbly passes and occasionally score a touchdown in the wrong end zone. But tackle is a whole different matter. Watch poor Terry Bradshaw on TV and tell me that tackle football doesn’t do anything to your brain. It definitely does.
I still haven’t totally ruled out the possibility of my boys playing football. But I question whether the fun is worth the risks—and that’s on the assumption that football actually is fun. My high school in Maine disbanded its team in like 1923, so I don’t really know. My firsthand football experience is limited to periodic episodes of “throw the ball over the house without warming up” and subsequent totally avoidable shoulder injuries. After I went to a flag football coaches meeting, I confessed to my mother that they were talking about the shotgun offense and I didn’t really know what that is. So she explained it to me. I guess you could say I’m more Marty Mornhinweg than Bill Belichick.
I’m still all-in on the Patriots and the Chuters, and on spending Sundays glued to the TV for way too long. Football is social, and I don’t want to give it up. But I no longer have an entirely clear conscience about my participation. Feeling concern for millionaire athletic idols is stupid, right? That’s what I’ll tell myself. It’s either that or apple picking. ◆
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