As football fans, we evaluate everything constantly. Data and discussion, websites, gambling, tv networks, billions of dollars, furor and noise. Around public schools and young men playing a game with a ball. Today’s news of current Baylor (former Boise State) player Sam Ukwuachu has been hard to process. The idea that Chris Petersen could have possibly cut an ill, violent, and suicidal kid loose and didn’t give Baylor a heads up is sickening. We don’t know the details (yet) and probably won’t (for a while), because this is going to be fought in court unless a lot of people who are used to getting their way start admitting difficult things publicly.
During the furor of twitter updates and rage against a system so broken that it allowed a woman’s very identity to be wiped away for the sake of having an All-American DL to shore up the line for next season, I started to evaluate, again, for the millionth time, just why I stay a fan of this sport.
Football can be a violent, stupid game. At the worst times, it’s a soul-sucking shrine to greed and injustice. Every time someone cheats, every time someone takes advantage of their fame or their association to the team to get away with a crime or take advantage of others, every time an assault or worse is covered up in connection with police and the athletic department, it’s disturbing. It makes me rightfully question whether I can keep pouring my time, energy, and love into a game as an institution that could seemingly not care any less dispassionately about anything but winning and cash. Football is a game played by tough, dangerous men. You know, the kind with cheesy smiles running expense accounts of the non-profit entities known as bowl games to live like royalty at great cost to young people who destroy their bodies and sometimes minds in exchange for an education.
At the best times, football can be intoxicating. When played well, it’s a beautiful dance of timing, skill, and power played to the musical pop of the pads and the screams of the faithful. When the lights are on, the band is playing, ESPN is in town, and the boys in blue are throttling some poor schmucks, it’s easy to get caught up in the joyfulness of it all. To ride the adrenaline rush of the imperfect beauty of this sport is beyond description. Everyone that calls themselves a fan fell in love at a different point. It doesn’t even matter which epic moment was the catalyst. There are hundreds of those moments across the country every season and that is why we watch and cheer on young men trying to turn themselves into heroes. Because sometimes they come out, make a ballsy call against a team that they should lose to, and run Statue. Then the running back proposes to one of the cheerleaders and a guy with a microphone ruins the moment. Because sometimes the kick is wide and heartbreak becomes painfully, agonizingly real. Football is played by driven, amazing young men. The kind that suit up and go out every day just to have a chance.
Outside of the extremes, football is a wonderful microcosm of humanity. No one has ever truthfully claimed that life was fair for everyone. We’re a stupid, messy lot. We make mistakes and break things all the time. We make poor choices and are victims of circumstances that we didn’t create, but have a drive to find a way to keep living despite the incredible odds of us being alive at all. Because being our own heroes and taking examples from those around us how to do things in a way that keeps us alive for another 5 minutes is what being human is about, pretty sure. Football might be broken, but it’s only because we are.
Should fandom be abandoned when it starts to hurt? Maybe, but not today. I will remember that nobody is perfect, and sure, I’ll be angry plenty of times in the future. But the game will also bring a quite pure form of joy. In corners of the country, fans will gather together to tailgate and cheer and watch this sport develop into the beautiful, chaotic mess that it is – made both gorgeous and hideous by humanity. Just like everything else.