This still seems fantastical: The NFL is the biggest, most watched, most profitable sport in the United States, and the coverage of the 2012 season kickoff and beyond will be as massive and overwhelming as it always is. (Including in this magazine.) But as the evidence mounts and the voices become louder, every NFL observer has to, at one point, ask himself: Is it immoral to be a football fan? Can an intelligent, engaged, socially conscious person put the way he sees the world in every other context aside because he enjoys watching the Giants on Sunday? Those are legitimate questions, because you can’t just pretend anymore. Every time there’s a big hit on the field, I can’t keep my human side—the part that wonders what that’ll mean for the player when he’s 45—quiet anymore. Forget your own kid playing football. The question is whether anyone’s kid should.
If this all seems a little histrionic, maybe it is. Maybe when the crowd gets roaring and the NFL Films theme gets blaring and they start chanting “j-e-t-s, Jets, Jets, Jets!,” I won’t feel this way. Maybe I’ll get back into the spirit like I always have. We’ve all made the bargain, the trade of entertainment for what is right and just, for a long time now. But more and more, it feels like an unfair deal. Not just for the players, but for us. Being a fan of football is being a fan of violence and self-destruction. Maybe we’ll all be able to get over it and accept the game for what it is, and understand that the players have made their own Faustian bargain. But that won’t change the facts. There are no big TV contracts or player salaries without fans tuning in. We’re all part of the problem.