Why I Hate Football
by Donna Schoenkopf
It’s not because as long ago as the ancient Greeks, Aristotle warned that tyrants will say, “Give people the games.”
It’s not because W.E.B. Dubois criticized “King Football” at Yale reaping seven times the money that the liberal arts program did.
It’s not because athletes on football scholarships to universities essentially get paid nothing and usually drop out before graduating.
It’s not because, in many cases, the football program at a university is the most important thing at that university and all other programs mean practically nothing.
All that’s pretty bad. But with me, it’s more personal.
It is the 1950s and the Cold War is threatening to be a hot war. Every night the news is full of fear of the Soviet Union attacking us. There are Communists under every rock. I Led Three Lives, a popular television show, shows Communist cells taking over our country, like the pod people in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
I am afraid of nuclear bombs, Communists, and my stepfather. The probability of being bombed to Kingdom Come is real. We all have seen photographs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. People completely evaporated, leaving only shadows on brick walls where the bomb had captured their last living moment. Children burned into lumps. People, still alive, walking out of the inferno with flesh hanging off their bones.
We children hide under our wooden desks during fire drills. Only they aren’t fire drills. Or earthquake drills or tornado drills. They are nuclear attack drills. And that little crappy wooden desk is not going to save us. Not even a little bit. And we know it.
My generation grows up. We find our voice and use it to protest war. We hate war. Truly, deeply, hate it because of those drills and those photographs. We are the ones who speak out against the war in Vietnam. We are the generation who puts daisies in the rifles of the National Guard. We are the generation who lies across the paths of trains and military convoys that are carrying on the business of death and destruction. We are the generation who dances and sings and wears flowers in our hair to send a message of peace and love.
We are trying to change the world.
We are hated by most folks. Lots of people call us un-American. People spit on us, rip our signs, jail us, want us to “Love it or leave it.”
The objection to war begins to fade for most people. The soldiers who had come back from Vietnam are now the victims, and eventually, the heroes. War is once more patriotic, good, and something to be proud of.
But not by me.
It is the 1980s. I am middle-aged. Ronald Reagan is President of the United States of America. He is in Reykjavik, Iceland, with Mikhail Gorbachev. They are there to discuss total nuclear disarmament.
Things are looking pretty good. I am very excited because it is a cause I’ve worked on for half my life. Twenty years of holding a sign, writing letters, walking in marches, getting arrested in Nevada at the nuclear test site, meeting with other folks in the Nuclear Freeze. Twenty years showed no progress, until now, in dismantling the weaponry that could blow up the world eight times over.
But tonight we are on the verge of turning our swords into plowshares.
A football game is on television. The announcement that our world would be nuclear-free interrupts the game.
Thousands upon thousands of phone calls erupt all over the country. They are angry, hysterical, maniacal calls about their game being interrupted.
Reagan drops the whole idea of nuclear disarmament because he knows the American people don’t give a damn about it. Nothing matters to them but their football game.
I feel a deep disgust in the pit of my stomach. I feel, yes, hatred for football.
I tell people from time to time about why I hate football when I am in conversations with them and the subject of football comes up. The response, every single time, is, “So what game was it?”
It is the present. I am watching the news showing footage of Penn State football fans overturning a television van. They are overturning the van because they are angry that Coach Joe Paterno has been fired.
You all know the story. It’s the biggest scandal to hit football. It’s got all the juiciness of sex and power. Little boys have been raped, sodomized, by one of the coaches at Penn State and even though lots of folks, including Joe Paterno, knew about it, they did nothing.
Football and Joe Paterno are more important to the guys pushing over the television van than little boys being raped. Penn State and all its fat cats sitting on the treasure trove of high stakes college football care more about their interests than the welfare of those little boys.
I watch as Joe Paterno, his nose dripping, and his old wife in her house coat, stand in front of their house. Oh, how aggrieved he is! Oh, how sad wifey is that her husband is being treated so badly. Fired over the phone! “Poor us!” their soundless lips seem to mouth to the camera.
Besides being hit a lot and yelled at by my stepfather, I was also molested by him. I won’t go into the details but I was very, very scared and hated him intensely.
My mother knew nothing of all this. She knew of the beatings, though, because she and my brothers were beaten, too. When we talked about the violence she would say, “If I say anything to him, things will get worse. If I leave him he will follow us and kill us.” She honestly and completely believed this. So, to her, her silence protected us.
Years later I told my mother about what my stepfather had done to me. She said he hadn’t really meant it and that it wasn’t really serious. After all, he had never actually had sex with me.
I looked at her and said, “Did your father do that to you, Mom?”
She literally gasped. “Oh, NO!” she said. And then she realized just how bad it was.
We just looked at each other. And never brought up the subject again.
Years later, when my stepfather was old and had brain cancer, I called the house to talk to my mother and he answered the phone.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he kept saying. His voice was high and childlike. The cancer was erasing his life. And I forgave him. Truly forgave him. I realized that something had happened to him to make him the way he was. Something so sad and horrible that he never got over it.
Mostly I don’t think about those years. But the news at Penn State these last few days has brought those memories back.
I think about all those little boys and Joe Paterno and his lapse of moral responsibility and fear of upsetting his team.
I think about Coach Sandusky raping little boys for years and years and then setting up a charity for young boys to play football and that charity, after hearing of Sandusky’s criminal behavior, continues on as though nothing has happened.
I think about Coach McQueary seeing a boy being sodomized by Sandusky and not being brave enough to say anything.
I think about the cowardice of all the people involved in the coverup, from janitors to the president of the university.
I think about how peoples’ images of themselves are tied to the team, a lazy way to feel good about themselves. I think about their reverence of something as meaningless as football and how it has become more important than anything else in the world to millions of people and that leads to ignorance of what’s going on in the world.
I think about the stupid cynicism and disinterest most people in our country have toward politics and democracy and how they proudly do nothing to participate, resulting in sometimes disastrous and ignorant leadership and often horrendous policies, affecting not only Americans, but the whole world.
I think about all that as I watch those angry, piggy young men overturning the television van because their love of football has kept them from caring about anything else.
And that is why I hate football.