Breakups are tough. You almost always hang on for too long. Maybe part of you feels guilty. Maybe you’re secretly hoping that, with time and a little compromise, you can recapture the magic that made the relationship so special in the first place. Who knows? Maybe it’s both. Relationships, though, almost never end well. In 2012, I went through a trying divorce with someone – rather, something – that was near and dear to me for over two decades: the Red Sox and MLB.
The reasons for strife in my fragmented relationship with baseball were no different than what causes divorce rates to reach new heights, year after year. I was sick of the personal investment (too many games that are too long), the lies (PEDs! PEDs!! PEDs!!!), and the lack of reciprocated appreciation (after all the horror stories that surfaced following the September collapse of 2011, followed by everything that transpired in the Bobby Valentine era, it became clear the last thing on the Sox' minds were the fans).
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I left the MLB behind and embraced the other three professional sports – most significantly, the NFL. At first, it was easy. Truthfully, even at the height of my MLB fandom, I’d never spend a July night watching nine innings of Padres-Phillies. But I have no problem signing up for a six-pack, nachos, and three hours of a Chargers-Eagles regular season game. Baseball season is just too taxing and diluted; football is one critical game a week.
Everything changed, however, this season. And no, this isn’t because of facial hair and the Red Sox resurgence. It’s because the sport of football consistently puts me, as a consumer and fan, in a compromising position with what happens, both on and off the field.
While, to a degree, this has always been the case, doesn’t it feel like the stories surrounding the NFL are more scandalous (and frightening) than ever? First, there was Aaron Hernandez (I know, I know – no need to go there).
Then, it was recently revealed that Von Miller’s hefty six-game suspension, levied in the preseason, is due to him successfully coaxing an NFL official to use their urine, as opposed to his, for a league-mandated drug test.
The season started and the stories only worsened. Two weeks ago, Aldon Smith was arrested for a DUI on a Friday (nothing new), then suited up to play against the Colts the following Sunday (fishy, but OK), and then ENTERED REHAB THE NEXT DAY (whaaaaatt??) because the 49ers didn’t think paying him to sit, when he was already headed to rehab, was the right thing to do.
Not enough? Throw in the gray areas. Week after week, fans and the media are asked to play The Moralist. We debate, waver, and take hard stances on controversial matters, even though, in reality, we don’t have the information to do so. For instance, should a reluctant Rob Gronkowski, who is recovering from multiple surgeries this offseason, play if he’s cleared by team doctors? Well, he reportedly looks great in practice! So, I guess so …?
Let’s consider something right in front of us that’s more cut and dry. Think back to the gruesome sight of an injured Aaron Dobson, rolling around on the ground, riving in pain, after his head snapped back following a head shot, in a way that no human’s head should. You and I both know, in the NFL, that showcase of visual horror is not an uncommon occurrence. And its possibility of happening crosses our mind every time helmet-to-helmet contact is made. The players are bigger, faster, stronger, and that’s making these types of injuries less of a trend, and more just a common by-product of the game.
Added together, it's increasingly difficult to justify the cost at which the NFL operates as a sport. And to that point, what does the notion that this is entertaining in the first place say about us, not as fans, but as people?
Like most relationships, even after it was over, I spent plenty of time being mad at MLB and the Red Sox. And I was right to do so. But what worries me is that I’ve never felt bad, as I did watching Dobson’s helmet whiplash backward, about watching a baseball game, like I do a football game. I hope I’ll look back and be wrong about that feeling.
Follow Ryan Hadfield on Twitter @Hadfield__