Why I’m Not Watching the Super Bowl, The NFL’s Big Problem

The groundhog has seen his shadow, chips and beer are on sale, and there’s nary a car on the road; it must be Super Bowl Sunday! In a world where I have been historically found at a friend’s house, enjoying a cold one, betting on outcomes, and enjoying everything from the Star Spangled Banner to the commercial breaks, this marks the fourth year in a row that I have opted out of the TV-centric activity. Why?

I can no longer glamorize a game that I fear my son will one day take interest in.

Ya, I know…some other school…

I’m a huge football fan. I was a cheerleader in high school before performing in the marching band and the university mascot in college. Four out of five of my brothers played football. We enjoy watching games on Sundays, and going to games whenever possible.

Now, however, I see the way my 3-year-old learns behaviors and norms from me. If I show my interest in photography, I can be certain I’ll find him playing with my lenses. My husband installed a ceiling fan, and our son now carries screws in his pocket and a toy drill with him. Interests and behaviors are learned, and mimicked by young children. If I watch football, my son watches football. If I enjoy the game, or cheer on a team, or shout “Ooooh!” after a big hit, so does my son. And if we keep watching games, someday he’ll look up at me and say, “I want to play football,” to which my husband and I are unified, “ABSOLUTELY NOT.” And I am not the only parent that feels this way.

The links between CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopacthy) and football players is striking. According to CNN, CTE was found in 99% of deceased football players brains’ that were donated for study. Ninety-nine percent. And, the longer you play football, the more likely you are to have CTE.

CTE, which can only be diagnosed by autopsy, is a degenerative disease caused by concussions and repeated hits to the head. Despite significant efforts to decrease the number of concussions in the NFL, 2017 saw a six-year high:

The Intercept created a film, “Concussion Protocol” which depicts all 281 of these violent collisions this year, and more importantly, the dazed confusion after. If you have five  minutes, it’s worth the watch:

The NFL is aware of the problem both for players and for ratings, and is doing its best to focus on player health. It continues to invest in concussion technology startups. However, this problem doesn’t start with the NFL. It starts much younger, with young men playing contact football as young as 6 – 8 years old, and suffering repeated hits through high school and university.

In 2015, a study in the journal Neurology found that former NFL players who began football before age 12 performed significantly worse on tests than those who started later in their teens. This held true even controlling for number of years played.

Indeed, two mothers in San Diego are suing Pop Warner and advocating a change in youth football after their sons separately committed suicide in their 20s after playing football only in their youth, and were later diagnosed with CTE. Illinois is writing legislation to ban tackle football before the age of 12. Yet, Pop Warner continues to fight for it’s right to tackle.

The violence of this contact sport and the extreme pervasiveness of injury are much of the reason I won’t let my son play, and part of preventing his interest is not watching and idolizing the profession, including the Super Bowl. And if he’s not watching, I’m not watching. This should be as big a problem for advertisers as it is for the NFL.

Today we went for a hike instead. I’ll catch up on the commercials tomorrow…maybe.

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11 Responses to Why I’m Not Watching the Super Bowl, The NFL’s Big Problem

  1. Shabnam Singh says:

    Hello Belen,
    As a mother I understand your concerns and completely support them. Indeed football is a dangerous sport and no precaution can eliminate the chances of a serious injury. I recently had a concussion for the first time in my life as I ran into a pole on my daily run and it is not a pleasant experience. The though of a 6 or a 8 year old dealing with that condition is unpalatable.

  2. Donna Faye says:

    Hi Belen,

    I have no kids but if I did, it would be my worst nightmare to see my child get into football. The statistics you presented are disturbing. I’m glad I do not have to deal with it as it would break my heart to not support my child if football happened to be something he’s passionate about.


  3. Julie says:


    What an interesting blog post you presented. Thank you for educating me. I didn’t watch the Super Bowl either, but my reasons are different: I was working on school work and I’ve never been a football fan. However, I read a few of the articles you linked to and I watched the Concussion Protocol video and I am shocked that tackle football is even legal – especially for children! I don’t blame you for wanting to keep your son from such a dangerous sport and I commend you for leading by example by not watching the game.


  4. Belen,
    Really great topic! Next week will be the 4th year my company is hosting an internship program for current, former, and free agent NFL players. The players come in and work with us for 3-weeks, rotating between different departments in the company. We give the players work experience outside of playing football and we hire some of the them as well.

    The question comes up every year, “Would you let your kids play football?” Every single player says no! A lot of these guys come in beat up. Most are under 30 and have already had several knee surgeries, bent fingers from being broken so many times, broken bones, and several concussions. The game really takes a toll on their bodies.

    The program we run is really great as it gives the players experience outside of doing they have done their whole lives – play football. The average career of a professional football player is 3.5 years…WOW!

    • Belén Torres-Gil says:

      Oh man, Rebecca, you actually touch upon an anecdote I ended up not including in this article, but is fascinating.

      I used to work at Stanford University, and often interacted with a core group of students. One time I was scheduling some events for winter quarter and one student, a football player, remarked he couldn’t make it because it’s, “surgery season.”

      Let that sit in for a minute.

      Surgery. Season.

      Here is a 20-year-old student at an academic university that has had 11 surgeries. He has an entire time of year he dedicates to surgical recovery.

      And he’s not alone.

      It’s like the worst kind of team-offsite, bonding experience you can imagine. They *all* do it. They get surgeries and replace knees, relocate shoulders, repair cracked ribs, reattach ligaments.

      It’s hard not to vomit thinking about this.

  5. Thomas says:

    Great post on the NFL and all the damage head injuries are causing to players in the game. It’s really sad to see that the coaches in Pop Warner are pursuing a full tackle format for those young boys. The effects of CTE are so obvious you have to blind not to see how horrible it is. It seems like the main problem, and surely the one that will AWALYS drive this sport is the money from televison, and the advertising that goes with it. I’m just as guilty as anyone when it comes to watching the commercials during the game. Just look what they get for the ads that run during the Super Bowl. When there is that kind of revenue to be made, it’s very hard to stop the mentality of making big money. It will have to take some very loud voices from within the game, the ones who are actually getting hurt to stand up and say this needs to change. As long as the players are willing to sacrifice themselves for a chance at fame and a big paycheck there will be an audience happy to see them take the hits.

    • Belén Torres-Gil says:

      Hi Thomas,

      I think you touch on an incredibly astute point. For many young athletes, a football scholarship, and career payday, are viewed as the only way out of their situations, often of poverty.

      As long as we dangle the carrot of fame and fortune, as only being for grid iron merit and not academic, we will have little boys running to sign up.

  6. Phillip says:

    Hi Belen,

    Very interesting and thought-provoking post! I watched the video you posted and have to admit, I was starting to feel a little sick at the end of it. Football is an extremely violent game and it’s always been known as a “gladiator sport.” Like the fabled coliseum of Rome, modern day NFL and college stadiums are packed with tens of thousands of screaming fans, rooting on their favorite champions towards victory in the face of danger. This thrilling excitement seems to speak to an animal instinct deep within our biology, left over from a time in our evolution where aggressive action and physical dominance meant life or death. It’s easy to see why this nation, much like the Roman Empire who has political and military interests around the globe, values this exposition of strength and warrior mentality. For a few hours on Sunday, fans can disconnect with the fact that they worked 40 hours in a cubicle, figuring out the missing numbers on a spreadsheet for the final report to their boss. They can tap into their wild and fierce inner-warrior, if only in spirit, while they celebrate a long touchdown run or an impressive and painful tackle with their friends. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat are felt week in and week out and the fact that there is an element of risk and danger seems to add to the electrifying element felt throughout stadiums and sports bars. An NFL or major college football program gives a common theme and camaraderie to people, to cities, or even entire regions. It brings joy to millions of people in this country and around the world. Players are celebrated as heroes and sign autographs along with multi-million-dollar contracts. It’s easy to see why people are willing to risk all for that level of fame and fortune.
    While there are many reasons that make the game of football amazing, there are some obviously grave realities. Players at all levels, and the families that love them, have experienced unspeakable tragedy. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is one of many risks that football players face along with chronic pain, immobility, paralysis, and even death. Stepping onto the football field may be the most physically dangerous action some people ever take in their lives and certainly some pay the price for having done so. I can fully understand and support someone not allowing their children to play or watch football for the reasons you stated in your post. I don’t have any myself but, if I did, I wouldn’t want them to get hurt in any way. It’s extremely sad to watch what has happened to some of our favorite athletes because of CTE and other injuries. As a San Diego Chargers fan, it was devastating to learn of Junior Seau’s suicide. He shot himself in the chest on purpose so that doctors would be able to study his brain, later finding the presence of CTE. It is obvious that change is needed. It is great to see the league responding with major culture changes such as penalties and fines for illegal and dangerous hits as well as equipment modifications. There were several prototype helmets being piloted this season that will hopefully reduce concussions significantly during head impacts. Even college rules are changing to immediately eject players who “target” defenseless players above the shoulders. Players at the college and pro levels must go through concussion protocol (the namesake of the video you shared) after a significant head injury where possible brain damage may have occurred. They are tested for evidence that a concussion may have occurred and are not allowed to return to the game if so.
    As someone who played football myself and has served for almost 20 years in the military, I can definitely say there are enormous benefits beyond the glory and paycheck (for which I never saw). Teamwork, discipline, bravery, hard work, toughness, grit are all qualities that the game of football instills in young people more than any other sport, in my opinion. However, I do believe there is a lot of room for tightened regulations on age of participation in tackle football. There really isn’t any need for people under 14 to be slamming into each other’s heads. More work is definitely needed in the area of player safety and concussion avoidance, but I don’t believe the answer is to all together take away the game of football, this country’s favorite sport.


    Phil Payne

  7. Jacob Roche says:

    Hi Belen,

    Something I found interesting about your post was you embedded the “Concussion Protocol” video, but when I tried to view it from the blog post, it just says “This video contains content from NFL, who has blocked it from display on this website or application.” I can click through to view it on YouTube proper, I have no doubt the NFL would like to bury publicity about its CTE issues as much as possible, and making it take an extra step to view the video is one way for them to prevent people from learning about the issue.

  8. Herbert Jerez says:

    Hello Belen,
    This is a great post thank you for sharing. I use to think that I wanted my son to pay football and was counting down the years for him to play. Now that he is of age I have decided that it is to dangerous and the dangers out way the pros. I feel that kids between he ages under 14 do not fully understand the dangers. Not to mention their necks are not as strong as those of a teenager or adult. Which means taking a blow or delivering a blow could create dangers for both players. Being that they are so young and not strain enough can potentially cause grater force to the brain from being jerked inside the skull.
    So my wife and I have decided to leave that football behind and now focus on his other talents such as baseball.

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