It is increasingly difficult to feel good about being a football fan. Science is becoming more adept at treating concussions, and studies show that concussions are far more prevalent than we used to realize, and their repercussions far more long-lasting. Despite their relative wealth and access to the excellent health care their union provides, former professional football players die at younger ages than the rest of the population, often after decades of stumbling through their lives with memory loss and decreased motor function. The other injuries, the broken bones and torn ligaments, are getting worse as well. If the NFL owners get their wish, and manage to extend the season to 18 games, these injuries are only going to get worse.
People who cover football for a living either do not notice or (far more likely) pretend not to notice, but NFL players are getting almost exponentially bigger and faster, such that observant fans have to assume that performance-enhancing drugs are being used far more often than the NFL will admit. To be certain, performance-enhancing drugs are used in other sports, most notably baseball, but, in my view, increased home run totals do not effect the integrity of the sport in the same way that the endless string of broken bones and torn ligaments effects the integrity of the NFL. Traditionalist baseball fans mourn the tainted records held by players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, but because that extra strength was directed at balls instead larger bodies hitting each other are higher speeds. Today's games are far more violent than the games of previous decades.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to follow the NFL and still see yourself as a moral and conscientious person.
And yet, football is a nostalgic sport for me. Buffalo does not have major league professional teams in my two favorite sports, so, growing up, we watched the Bills. The Buffalo Bills made the playoffs every season from the time I was 8 to the time I was 16, and went to the Super Bowl every year from when I was 10 until I was 14. I have never rooted for professional athletes as much as I cheered for Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, Jim Kelly, Steve Tasker, Darryl Talley, and Cornelius Bennett, and those teams played a number of the greatest football games ever played.
If there's one game in particular that exemplifies what I enjoy about the NFL, it is the game the Bills played against the San Francisco 49ers in September 1992. The field was full of future Hall of Famers, and the game was called and executed at the highest level. Three hours and 1086 yards of offense later, the Bills had won 34-31. As long as the NFL remains capable of providing games like this, I will have at least a little interest in the sport, even if I find it difficult to look past the unsavory aspects of the game.