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Worldwide Ace » Confessions of a Football Hating Football Fan

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Confessions of a Football Hating Football Fan

1 December, 2013 (20:14) | Social Commentary, Sports

No, I seriously hate football.

Just to be perfectly clear, I hate football.

Maybe that wasn’t as clear as it could have been.

My freshman year of high school I stood five foot ten and weighed in at a whopping 225. Despite my soft, pudgy exterior, I was surprisingly athletic, faster and stronger than most people gave me credit for. I was, in many ways, built for football.

Boston University Academy was still in its infancy, boasting a graduating class the previous year of one. My class, the biggest yet in its history, featured a grand total of 25 students, several of which (myself included) would leave before graduating. On the first day, we gathered all the freshman together, playing ice breakers and introducing ourselves. When my turn came, I rose to my full height, unabashedly standing before the class.

“Hi, my name is Ben,” I said, “and if we had a football team, they’d probably be recruiting me.” A few of the others snickered or nodded. “But,” I continued, “I wouldn’t play because I hate football.”

Ten minutes later, we were ushered into an all-school assembly, complete with the 15 sophomores, eight juniors, and three seniors that called BUA their home. Once again, each of us was asked to stand and introduce ourselves, without the added facts the more intimate setting required.

“I’m Ben,” I said, rising to my feet.

“Whoa,” said the principal, his eyebrows raised and smile spreading across his face. “If we had a football team, he’d be perfect for it,” he announced. My classmates laughed even more as I scanned them with a knowing look.

Football was my bane growing up. If I told someone I had a game and wasn’t carrying equipment or in uniform, half the time I would get confused comments that it wasn’t football season. “Why don’t you play football?” was my second least favorite thing to hear. I was judged by football. I was pigeonholed by football. I was stereotyped by football. And I hated it.

In elementary school, we would play two-hand touch football at recess. I wasn’t comfortable with a football in my hands, my throws wobbling lame duck style. I wasn’t faster than the smaller, quicker kids, which meant I couldn’t out run them to the ball. My height and size meant that I was constantly asked to rush the passer on defense, a role I loathed, counting until he threw, constantly waiting and hoping the coverage was good enough to prevent him from throwing (it never was). On offense, I was the lumbering giant, never thrown to, always too slow or not open enough. I hated playing. There was no place for me. But play I did, because when snow-covered the basketball court, what else was there to do?

Other sports felt good. Baseballs and basketballs have neat, symmetrical designs, spheres that slide easily in almost any direction in my hand. A football is awkward and misshapen. You can’t catch it easily one-handed. Other sports had flow, where the action was punctuated by short or tense breaks. Football was a game of breaks punctuated by action. Despite the majority of the boys playing football together, it always seemed to boil down to a game of two on two or three on three with the rest of us running around neglected.

Football - Sport of JerksMy first opportunity to play football for real came in middle school. Cardigan Mountain School boasted four football teams: Varsity, JV, and Reserve A and B. Sports were required of all students, with soccer and football the most popular fall sports. I had no desire to play football if I couldn’t be a receiver, so I signed up for Rec Sports instead (the code word for getting the indoor kids outside for hikes or games). Most days, I hung with my friends talking about things, wandering aimlessly with the teacher in charge, and playing what passed for role-playing games on the go.

As the year wore on, I found that the big football stars were often arrogant jerks. They usually were hockey stars and baseball stars too. I was shocked that people so ingrained in sports culture could so lack sportsmanship off the field. In retrospect, my choice to avoid football may have been as much at fault for my seeming constant hazing as my hazers’ choice to play. In the moment, though, it felt as though every football player was that jerk bully just like in teen dramas. It drilled home the idea that football, a sport of waiting for three seconds of lame action likely to cause injury, wasn’t worth my while.

I switched schools my sophomore year of high school, moving from BUA back to the Brookline public schools. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I hadn’t made the grade at BUA. I sat quietly to the side, trying hard not to make waves until I figured out the lay of the land. I also signed up for the a couple easy classes to make sure I could slack off. I was sick of failing despite my “potential.”

One of these slacker classes was a culinary class. I mean, hey, I liked to cook. And I definitely liked to eat. What could go wrong?

Walking into class the first day, I felt completely out of place. The kids in class with me talked differently. Every other words seemed to be an insult or a statement about the New England Patriots. I decided that if I wanted to make friends, I’d need to learn about football, despite my displeasure. If I couldn’t succeed socially being me, I needed to at least lean the language  of the socially successful.

My neighbor Zach loved football. We’d occasionally play catch in the backyard. He dreamed of playing QB, and I loved actually getting thrown the ball. Still, he knew I didn’t share his love of the game, preferring baseball or basketball when we did play together. He was shocked when I asked if I could watch the games with him. We headed downtown to the Harvard club, which had a pool table in a lounge that was effectively empty every weekend. We tuned the TV to every game we could find and shot bad pool while watching games. Slowly, he schooled me in the basics of a sport I didn’t care about.

The Patriots went to the Super Bowl that season, losing to Green Bay. Football was suddenly culturally important in Boston for the first time since I had lived there. And I had chosen the perfect year to start my education. All winter, I talked football, watched football, and studied what my friends, both new and old, could teach me about the sport.

Still, despite my efforts, despite my new-found understanding, I still hated football. It was a stupid sport. I felt like football had way too much waiting. Football didn’t need the concentration that baseball did. It didn’t enjoy the speed that basketball or lacrosse did. It was a sport for lumbering lummoxes, steroid-filled oafs, and brain-damaged musclemen who knew nothing but violence and anger.

Football Sport of ThugsFootball was the sport of thugs.

Attending the University of Colorado during a football renaissance didn’t help. My freshman year of college, we challenged for the national championship under head coach Gary Barnett. The team’s success happened right alongside payola and rape scandals that led to Barnett’s much-deserved firing. The party/football atmosphere brought multiple drinking deaths followed by a crackdown by the administration that affected all student. And perhaps worst, football diluted my journalism classes with the selfsame lummoxes who though TV was a viable fall back plan after their imaginary pro career vanished into thin air.

I hated our team, our administration, our financing of the football machine, and I hated that, no matter how much the games themselves didn’t matter, everything else was affecting our student body in negative ways. I hated football more than ever.

But football had one thing still going for it: it was the perfect cultural currency.

I could walk into any room with any crowd and find a point of commonality on football. Often the first question that anyone asked was if I had seen the game. It didn’t matter which game or which team, keeping up on football meant always having something relevant to say or ask about. And when I had nothing to add, I could ask, listen, learn, and expand that knowledge.

It was banal, and wasteful, and I hated it, but it was effective. The IT Crowd, an awesome geeky British comedy about an IT department, featured an episode entitled “Are We Not Men?” in which the protagonists found a website that let them mimic contemporary soccer fans. I had effectively done this, except where they could be caught in their ruse, I often was better studied and researched than those fans with whom I was talking.

My love of baseball eventually led me to playing fantasy baseball. My freshman year of college, a friend convinced me to join his fantasy hockey league, despite my knowing nothing about hockey. Soon, I was playing fantasy basketball and football. But over the years, baseball proved to require too much time and attention, hockey lost its luster thanks to strikes, and basketball just seemed silly with its massively variable stats.

Left to fill the fantasy void was football, the sport everyone played.

Fantasy football is the only reason I even bother to follow football. Its insignificant sample size, poorly design stats, and lack of true individual merit leave it miles behind the sabermetric obsessed baseball world. The constantly changing lineups thanks to a high rate of injuries or legal problems makes even the best stats collected unreliable. If anything, it’s gambling under a different name.

Yet here I sit, my laptop open, a football game blaring in the background, my fantasy team blinking updates on another tab. Every Sunday, I find myself watching stats and scores, reading the latest news on players, teams and better statistical metrics, and acting in every way a football fan.

But I watch out of fear of rejection. I follow because I’ve sunk too much time into this already. I pretend to care, not because football is awesome, but because the people with whom I bond over football are awesome.

And, if it weren’t abundantly clear, I still hate football.

Fantasy football is just Dungeons & Dragons for people who inexplicably find rushing yards more interesting than slaying an umber hulk with a +5 holy avenger