I’m done. I’m not watching any more football.

The last straw was the post-mortem analysis of Jovan Belcher’s brain. It showed that the 25-year-old former University of Maine Black Bear and Kansas City Chief – who murdered his girlfriend before killing himself two years ago – had the characteristic signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. That’s the cumulative effect on the brain of many small injuries. It has been connected with aggression, amnesia, confusion and depression as well as early onset dementia.

The only definitive test for CTE requires slicing up the brain after the subject’s death and looking at it under a microscope. Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University, has examined the brains of 48 dead football players and found CTE in 47 of them.

Mike Webster had it. The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman ended up sleeping in train stations and his pickup truck despite a long and lucrative professional career. He died at 50. Linebackers Andre Waters and Junior Seau had it. It was diagnosed after their suicides when they were in their mid-40s.

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of former players have the telltale scarring on their brains associated with banging their skulls again and again against hard objects like another player’s helmet or the ground – something that happens in every game on every play, year after year.

Maybe that’s not enough evidence to ban the sport, but I’ve seen enough for me to stop watching it. If people want to hurt themselves to play a game, that’s their right. But please, don’t do it for my entertainment. Knowing what the cost can be has made the game no fun to watch.


The problems with football can’t be fixed. The same things that make the sport thrilling are what hurt the people who play it. Would we hold our breath on a long pass play if there weren’t a linebacker flying at a quarterback just as he releases the ball? Or if there weren’t a safety running all out to lay a hit on the receiver and knock the ball loose?

Things happen on a football field that would be criminal if two guys were doing them outside of a bar, and that violence is a big part of what people like about the sport. It’s what I’ve always liked about it. It’s very entertaining.

But tastes can change. When I was growing up in the 1970s, the most charismatic figure in sports was Muhammad Ali. Some people loved him, some hated him, but nobody could take their eyes off him. When Ali was champ, everyone knew it. My mother, who never watched a prize fight, knew it. Little kids in Africa who had never seen a TV knew it.

Who is the heavyweight champion today? Almost nobody knows and almost nobody cares. What happened? Ali had something to do with it.

It became clear in the 1980s that the guy who could out-talk anybody now could barely mumble; that his hands shook so much he had trouble signing his three-letter name; that instead of floating like a butterfly he was unsteady on his feet, and his once-expressive face was like a mask. That was the price he paid to be “The Greatest,” and everybody knew it. One day millions of us looked up and realized that we hadn’t watched a fight in years.

And that could happen to football. Some fans will talk about the character-building aspects of the game and how kids who play it are healthier than those who don’t, and they won’t be wrong.


It’s true that most football players don’t develop dementia, Parkinson’s disease or ALS at a higher rate than the general population. But 28 percent can be expected to, according to an NFL actuary, and they present symptoms at “a noticeably younger age” than the rest of us.

Most professional football players never get violent off the field. The arrest rate for NFL players is actually lower than that of their age cohort, despite what you might guess from the high-profile cases that have been leading the news lately.

But knowing that more than a quarter of players could be getting brain damage just so I’ll have something to do on a Sunday afternoon doesn’t feel right. And it doesn’t help to have to wonder whether the battering that does occur in players’ homes is a result of that brain damage, or simply what happens in a culture that glorifies violence and devalues women.

We all have to make our own choices. This is mine.

I hear Gov. LePage is boycotting the NFL because of the league’s pathetic lack of a domestic violence policy for its players. If he’s looking for something to do on Sunday, tell him I’ll be around.


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