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.

Scene I:

Nagasaki bomb
Nagasaki bomb

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.

Scene II:

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.

Scene III:

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.

Scene IV:

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.

Scene V:

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?”

Scene VI:

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.

These days:

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.

Donna Schoenkopf recently retired from teaching at 61st Street School in South Central Los Angeles, and has moved back to Oklahoma, where she spent her teens.


There I was sitting in front of the TV Saturday night and there was nothing on TV but football.  The satellite wasn’t beaming a reality show, except football.  Then, there it was, a show that was not fooball.  It was a show that featured women who killed their husbands and children.  I guess that wan’t better than football.  Thank God there still are books.

2011-11-14 by Doyal

I love you, Donna. Soon after connecting with you I asked my brother if he remembered you. The first thing he said was that he came in second place in a writing contest that you won. Before I could ask him about the contest, he told me that you frequently showed up at school with bruises, and it was obvious that you were being hit at home. My brother said that you made no effort to cover signs of abuse and it was impossible for teachers to not know. Because you’ve raised the subject of your abuse, I can now ask you something I’ve wanted to know. Did a teacher or school official intervene on your behalf?

2011-11-14 by sally Rushing Collins

Thank you for your courage in telling this story. I am so sorry that you had to endure abuse as you were growing up…and that no one spoke up for you.

2011-11-14 by Rosalyn Kalmar

Wow…words fail me, but they never, ever fail you.

2011-11-14 by Vicki Edgin

i know you would have done something, roslyn.

my point wasn’t poor me. we all have our stories.  my point was that we are endlessly amused and comfortable and disconnected with what is going on right now, as a society.  football is a metaphor for excuses, cowardice, and ignoring things that are uncomfortable or not nice.  it is the excuse for doing nothing and closing off with endless amusements.

huh.  shoulda put that in the story.

yer pal,


2011-11-14 by donna

I am so sorry what you had to endure as a kid.  That kind of betrayal and trauma is simply heartbreaking, sickening, infuriating. The one thing parents owe to their kids is to protect them and when they fail in that one job, the betrayal is absolute—unfixable, unhealable, unforgiveable. 

All of that is bad enough when it happens in a single family, but what’s so awful with the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts and now Penn State is this: They all had a clear Choice offered to them—a child or the institution.  The institution won.  The “message” doesn’t get any clearer than that.

And it isn’t just a church or a school, it’s everything in this culture.  Question: What is of REAL value to us here in America? Answer:  It ain’t people.

2011-11-14 by Ann Calhoun

A hard story to write, but more of these need to be told. I remember when I was in second grade at Jefferson Grade School in Shawnee, Oklahoma, where I also grew up, seeing a little girl who was new at the school sitting on the concrete in her full skirt…girls wore dresses to school then in the 50’s. In my child’s mind I remember all around her her skirt was wet as if she had urinated on herself and her eyes were hollow and lost. She was obviously distressed and very sad. Teachers were there supervising and other children were playing since it was the lunch break, but she wasn’t with us. I had no idea what could be wrong but for some reason this year, I clearly saw this little sad girl and wondered what her name was and how she was now. And it also dawned on me that she was one of the forgotten, ignored young children that had been sexually molested and abused and no one seemed to see that problem back then.

2011-11-14 by Jeanita Ives

I want to know if Shawnee Oklahoma now has a women’s shelter.

2011-11-14 by Sally Rushing Collins

Thanks for this painful and poignant article, Hermana.

2011-11-14 by Clark Shackelford

I am so disgusted with the reaction of those idiots rallying behind the coaches and rapists who ruined those children"s lives
This isn’t just football. It’s everywhere. The catholic church ! no one wanted to blame those priests.  What about worshiping OJ ?  A murderer.  It’s the mentality of denial or excuses and hero worship of a celebrity or whoever or whatever the people think should escape responsibility. .it’s sickening it’s everywhere I’m with you. It’s awful.  Add money, fame and looks to that list.

(from friend darlene.)

2011-11-14 by donna

I would like to reiterate—this story is not about poor me.  It is bigger than that. 
It is about how our society is dangerously unconscious of what is going on. 
For example, we are five years away from the final tipping point environmentally. 
We elect stooges like Bush because we aren’t aware of who and what he stands for.
We look away from serious questions because it’s uncomfortable or will put us in a difficult position.
We don’t speak up because it’s “not nice.”
No one so far has commented about the fact that we had the opportunity to do away with nuclear weapons back in the 1980s.  That is as important to me as the fact that I was molested.
As Americans, as a democracy, we absolutely must pay attention or the consequences are dire.
But thanks, everybody, for your concern about what happened to me personally.
I love you back.

2011-11-14 by donna

There are many things like football.  Though, I think Football is especially symbolic.  I’m reminded of the classic book, The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football. I hope it’s still in print.

2011-11-14 by don cannon

This is an important and courageous piece, Donna. Thank you for sharing it.

2011-11-15 by Kersten

I’m so sorry that you had to endure this as a child.  I have always said, whether it’s right or wrong, what goes around comes around.  I’m sure your stepfather suffered greatly and possbily that is the reason, we will never know.
As to football, I’m not a fan.  When my son played football in Meeker, I didn’t even know when to clap (didn’t know what was going on really).  I just watched the others there.  I asked him what was his purpose and when they hiked the ball, he tackled the person on the other team in front of him.  That’s all I got out of it.  So, therefore, I’m still not a fan.  I’d go to a game if my husband REALLY wanted to go, but there’s a lot more things that he’d rather do.
Football has ruled our schools, Oklahoma and the USA for quite awhile.  It’s the favorite pastime above what baseball used to be.  I don’t know why anyone would want to watch people tackle and possibly maim or hurt anyone, but that’s me. The schools don’t have enough money for school books, teachers, band, art, etc.  BUT, they have enough money for football, for the great fields, uniforms and all that goes with it.  If they didn’t, people would donate hand and fist.  But they complain if they have to furnish paper for the school.
Then you have the sex offenders…..that are honored….

What is wrong with this picture????

2011-11-15 by Debbie Hammons

There was a woman’s shelter that I did not even know about that sheltered women that had been raped and such and given medical treatment.  They also helped abused children (even going so far as having them testify there and not having to go into the court when they are very young).  In talking with my daughter inlaw, the D.A. here in Shawnee had to take control of it because of bad management.  They were trying to get a foundation that my daughter inlaw is already associated with (non profit) to take that over also.  I haven’t heard anything more, but will try to find out.  It doesn’t have a sign out, so it’s not been really advertised as such but I’m sure that officials know that it is there.

2011-11-15 by Debbie Hammons

Wish I could promise never to watch football again, but I would be lying if I said that.  I will NEVER watch it again with the same eyes I’ve watched it with for 60+ years!

2011-11-16 by betsy evans

A timely article, and right on the button I wished others could open their eyes to the tragedy that is played here and then DO something about it.

2011-11-16 by ruth thumm

i seem to be going on and on about this, but last night i saw a bit of a rerun of a “Law and Order” episode that dealt with the murder of a baseball player who was murdered because he dropped a ball in an important game.

even the detective working the case thought the guy should have been killed. 

it was not funny.  this has GOT to stop.

2011-11-19 by donna

All sports bore me to tears but I truly despise football. It represents all that is wrong with masculinity at its most aggressive worst. The only guy that bullied me in high school was one of the football jocks. He would always call me a pussy. Which I always was but so what. My all time favorite activity has always been cross dressing and no doubt my non-athletic wussyness initially prompted the football jocks to target me as a pantywaist. Fortunately my facial structure and appearance was always more pretty rather than handsome and by end of freshman year I had grown my hair past my shoulders, so I’d be the first to admit that I looked like a girl and that not only clearly did not bother me but I could not help but smile whenever anyone would tell me that. Still today, very amusing to me was that right when the football jocks and other guys were starting to lift weights and get all buffed, I faked a weightlifting accident and injury in PE that I was able to use to get a doctor to get me excused from weight training and other typically muscle building PE crap for the remainder of high school. Even before then I had always gone out of my way to avoid all activity that had the potential to build visible arm and upper body muscle because I had firmly decided by age six or so that the most important thing in life to me would always be looking good (my most feminine) in a dress and unquestionably, muscles do not look good in a dress. The second story back deck of our house overlooked the high school athletic field and every day possible I could not wait to get home from school, strip off my boy clothes, do my make-up, then doll up like ‘the girl next door’. Then, while the football jocks were smashing each other up and getting all sweaty and filthy on the field below, I would be all dolled up above on the deck dancing to delightfully girlish tunes such as “I Am Just A Girl” by ABBA, “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story and “How Lovely to be a Woman” from Bye Bye Birdie. And as if that wasn’t delightful enough, there was quite the element of excitement as well since the football jocks did not have a clue I was me or even a boy at all. None of them knew where I lived so they not only just thought I was some swishy girl who danced on her parent’s back deck during their football practice but they made no secret out of the fact that they thought I was a rather attractive girl at that although I’m certain they thought I was no older than junior high or even sixth grade because I always looked much younger whenever I was dressed as a girl. I still love cross dressing more than anything else and I have a ritual I do every Superbowl Sunday: I doll up entirely as a fairy princess and spend the day girly shopping, and every women’s clothing store I go to I introduce myself as: “The Soft Meek Weak Effete and Ever Ever so Very Sweet Testosterone Neutralizing Anti-Football Fairy”. I’m sure there are more than a few jocks who would love to thump me silly but the only way they will ever find me would be to hang out at women’s clothing stores in Sacramento all day every Superbowl Sunday and what football jock guy is going to do that!?!

2011-11-20 by Luv2BGirly

So, oops, I forgot to finish with my point. I have always wondered why the football jocks had such a problem with me being a non-athlete and looking so effeminate. I had no interaction with their lives other than their unsolicited name calling and threats to pummel me for being a ‘pussy’, so why oh why does one suppose that THIS skinny, 85 lb weakling with long hair and a pretty face irritated them so terribly? I mean, it REALLY bothered several of them just by me being me. I can’t help but think that there were some repressed issues among them and somehow, my passive, peaceful, harmless, shy, persona represented something that spooked them? I just don’t think those boys were ever really mentally/emotionally healthy to feel threatened or whatever by me?

2011-11-20 by Luv2BGirly

Donna, this one REALLY grabbed me.  Let me tell you a few of the reasons why I, too, hate football…

I wanted to go to music school after completing high school.  USC had an excellent music school in those days (1970) so I auditioned and was accepted. But I could not afford to attend school, and my California State Scholarship was not nearly enough.  So I applied for a MUSIC scholarship and was given one.  They called it a “Band Grant.”  Because I played trumpet, I was told that I MUST play in the USC Marching Band, at EVERY football game, and EVERY basketball game. AND at the Rose Bowl if the USC made it that far, and the Rose Parade, and even DISNEYLAND.  Two weeks of eight-hours-per-day rehearsals during Xmas vacation, marching around a field playing idiotic tunes while playing the trumpet.

I always thought (and still do!) that football was an idiot’s game, to be played AND WATCHED by idiots.  Excuse me, I meant, by VIDIOTS.  I used to bring philosophy books to the stupid games. Eventually I also used to take mescaline or LSD or Peyote before the games, along with many of my fellow “band grant” sufferers.

Guess who was a fellow student at USC?  That’s right, O.J.Simpson.  I used to see him driving his stupid red Camero around the campus, in areas restricted against vehicular traffic.  But it was O.J., so it was OK with the school officials.  The head of the History Department once told me how much he resented the football people on campus, because they COERCED him in to giving the football scholarship lunkheads grades of B so they would qualify for participation on the team.

I, too, have observed the morons getting all pumped up about football (and other “team” spectator sports).  It is a sad sight to behold.  And it is truly an embarassment to me, as a male of the species.  Unfortunately, the whole “we won” lunacy of football (and yes, that includes “futbol” - which engenders some of the same types of behavior amongst males-as-a-group) is a reflection of a violent mindset that can sometimes show its ugly head in other realms.  Such as domestic violence.

Thank you for writing and sharing this piece, Donna.  It sickens me that you had to endure such horror as a child.  It sickens me that any human being would be subjected to such treatment, particular during childhood, but also at any point during one’s lifetime.  I commend you for forgiving your stepfather, though, because it is never good to hold hatred and resentment in one’s heart - to do so would poison your own psyche.  Also, your stepfather was a product of our uncivilized world.  We have a LONG way to go, alas.  But we MUST not stop trying.  On behalf of my fellow men out there, I apologize to you, and to all women (and other men) who have had to endure domestic violence.  We are ALL responsible, as a society, for this.  Even folks like me who HATE football and ANY recreational pursuits that glorify violence - because what I SHOULD have done while at USC, was to either BOYCOTT and REFUSE to participate in the madness (even as a relatively benign band member); or to go there with a huge protest sign in my hand and refuse to leave.  Eventually I did QUIT the whole shennanigan after becoming disenchanted and disgusted over the entire game (I’m talking about the USC college game in general, not just the football part of it).  But that’s another story for another time. 

So, to wrap this up:  Thank you, Donna, for your courage to share this personal story with us.  My own story PALES in comparison. The only thing I had to endure was two years of spectator sport misery, which was lightened somewhat by the frequent use of hallucinogens as a means of partial escape.  Let us hope that our species eventually EVOLVES to a point where the type of thing that happened at Penn State will never happen again.  Sadly, I suspect that this type of thing is as rampant as it is within places like the Catholic Church (which thrives on a different kind of madness, alas - but madness, all the same).

2011-11-20 by Gary Eisenberg

Yep, i hate football too. Yet here i am setting up the Neiners…..

2011-11-20 by Eric Steinberg

Hi, Donna. I was your daughter Rebecca’s biology partner from WAY back in high school (20 years ago!). She sent this article to me after I posted something on FB about the whole Sandusky thing. Sickening. You said much of what I have been thinking about football and all it represents in this country. I live in the South now, so it is even more rampant here. I realize that in the article football is more of a symbol for the kinds of things that distract us from what’s important (the Kardashians, Prince William, the Twilight Saga, or whatever), but I must agree: I HATE football!

2011-11-21 by Diana Young

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