By Raul Carranza
One of my earliest memories is from my Dad taking me to the hotel where the Broncos were staying for the ’97 Super Bowl. He is a lifelong Broncos fan and was probably hoping that his adorable disabled son would get him a few autographs from the players.
I was too young to really get the magnitude of the event. Everything I knew about football came from my Dad and I was excited because he was excited.
We weren’t the only people trying to get autographs, but, sure enough, we were able to cut to the front of many lines and get time with a bunch of the players and coaches. We even got to take a picture with the Head Coach, Mike Shanahan. Then my Dad tried to get us to meet John Elway, which not even my wheelchair could penetrate the posse surrounding him. Still, we were happy because we got to see the back of his head … in person.
The next night was the happiest I have ever seen my Dad. He had a party, invited all his friends and gave me the hardest hi-five ever when the Broncos won. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked on football. Me, my Dad and my brother don’t have that much in common, but we always had football and the Broncos.
I remember last year how upset we were when we lost the Super Bowl. I remember how excited we were about the new season. So it hurts me to say that I’m not excited about football anymore.
It hasn’t been one thing that made me feel this way, but rather a compilation of things all mixed together, that make a really shitty salad.
It started with the concussion thing. Reports about how the NFL knew about the risks before anyone else and didn’t make an effort to inform the players. Then stories about how they refused to help retired players that are already in nursing homes at the age of 50.
Those things bothered me, but I was able to shrug them off.
“Well, what did they expect?” I would tell myself. “They knew the risks and they did it anyway. Besides, they got paid a lot of money and they should have planned better for the future.”
Then I saw a documentary by ESPN called Broke and it details why so many athletes go broke so often. It explained that the players only get paid during the season and how the teams give them a check after every game. For most people in their 20s, if you give them a check for $20,000 every week, they are going to spend that money. Especially if they come from poverty, like a lot of athletes do.
Then it explained how the players have to pay taxes for every state in which they play. A player on the Chargers not only has to play taxes in California, but also in Illinois, Colorado, Florida, New York, and any other state they may have played in. It’s no wonder that you see athletes getting in trouble in the off season for silly things, like selling marijuana. It’s not that they’re stupid, it’s that they’re broke! They need to put food on the table.
This, compounded by the fact that the NFL doesn’t take care of their players when they’re done with football, helps paint a very clear picture of why we’re seeing so many athletes get arrested for terrible crimes like rape and domestic abuse.
The NFL is putting tremendous pressure on young players, fresh out of college, to never get hurt, always perform at 100 percent and never say or do anything that might hurt their bottom line.
Ironically, this is the only time the League helps them out. It isn’t a problem that Ray Rice knocked out his girlfriend. It is a problem that a video surfaced and embarrassed the NFL. It isn’t a problem that Adrian Peterson beats his kid. It’s a problem that he got caught and tarnished the League’s image. It isn’t even a problem that Ray McDonald has multiple allegations of sexual assault. It’s only a problem because he’s making the NFL look like misogynists, that don’t care about women.
And that is the heart of the NFL. The League only cares about making money. Why wouldn’t they? That is what corporations do. Not because they are evil, but because they are amoral. The only accountability that they understand lies in their pockets. That is the only reason they are trying to pretend that they care.
All of the changes that they have implemented have amounted to no more than window dressing. Their changes to their conduct policy doesn’t help victims of domestic violence. It doesn’t provide counseling or services for the families, and it doesn’t stop teams from hiring police officers as part-time employees in order to develop a cozy relationship with police departments so their players get special treatment when they get in trouble.
So when I say that I’m not going to watch the NFL next year, it’s not because I think I am better than people who do. It’s because I can’t ignore these problems anymore.
It won’t be easy for me. Football has been a huge part of my life and I love watching it. It hasn’t been easy for me to try to stop cold turkey. I even missed the Bronco-Dolphins game … on purpose! I never miss a game on purpose. But I found myself looking at highlights and reading articles so I made a deal: I’m only going to watch until the Broncos are done. I haven’t been watching any other games and I won’t be. I hope they make it to the Super Bowl but I’m not holding my breath.
I don’t expect that me not watching football is going to affect much. I have no illusions about the NFL changing because of one person, but I sincerely hope they do change. I hope that they provide pension funds to their players. I hope they make contracts fully guaranteed. I hope they pay the player’s salaries throughout the year instead of over the course of the season. I hope that they provide counseling for athletes and their families in order to deal with the pressures of the job. I also sincerely hope that they do away with the culture of machismo and stop pretending that there is anything honorable about playing through a concussion.
I hope that they do all of these things so that I can enjoy football again. Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised, but I am not naïve. The only way the NFL will change… the only way any corporation changes is if we force them to. The only ones who can do that, the ones who have the most power here, are the players. And I don’t think they’re in a position to do what needs to be done.