The Minnesota Vikings first broke my heart when I was 12 years old. The NFC Championship on Jan. 17, 1999, was the first game that I can remember truly, deeply caring about. As Gary Anderson's infamous kick sailed wide right, setting up the Atlanta Falcons' win in overtime, I slumped into the couch.
That sensation became familiar in the subsequent years rooting for the team (as any fan would attest). Sports have an urgency, an immediacy, to them. They make us feel tension, elation, anger and searing pain.
Years later, when I learned of the staggering health problems facing former players, the sport of football itself broke my heart. I was faced with a choice: support a corrupt and callous institution that wreaks havoc on former players' lives, or give up the sport in which I had invested so much emotion. I swore off the sport and my beloved Vikings.
As the day of the Minneapolis-hosted Super Bowl approaches, I urge all to do the same. Boycott not just the game, but the sport altogether. Don't attend games, don't buy Sunday Ticket and don't watch the contests.
Contemporary society constantly offers us choices for consumption: Netflix or Hulu, Coke or Pepsi, H&M or Gap. Not all such choices are benign, however. Buying an item manufactured under unethical conditions effectively abets the harms involved in production.
If you knowingly purchase clothing sewn in sweatshops and you have the financial means to do otherwise, you are complicit in the evils of that labor practice. You have done something wrong and harmed the workers. Some of the cocoa that goes into commercial chocolates is harvested using slave and child labor. Ignoring that fact and buying chocolate from companies that have not reformed their production processes supports this abhorrent practice and is therefore wrong.
Each of us has an obligation to opt for ethically produced items when given the option.
American football devastates players. Beyond persistent pain throughout the body, former players at the high school, college and professional levels all face an increased likelihood of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative neurological condition marked by memory loss, erratic behavior, poor decisionmaking, bouts of rage and suicidal thoughts.
During his latter playing years and after retiring, Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau degenerated. He suffered from insomnia, gambled away his earnings and had fits of anger. Seau committed suicide in May 2012 by shooting himself in the chest, sparing his brain so that it could be tested for CTE. After examination, it was determined that Seau, like so many former football players, including Jovan Belcher, Dave Duerson, Aaron Hernandez and Mike Webster, suffered from the condition.
As of July 2017, the Boston University CTE Center has discovered the condition in the brains of 110 out of 111 former NFL players and 48 out of 53 former college players. Such suffering is an undeniable consequence of football, and fans' choice to support the sport financially makes it possible.
It's easy to dismiss the problems with football because we readily ignore the consequences of actions when they are not immediately present. If players were killing each other directly on the gridiron, the ethical wrong in supporting the sport would be clear and palpable. But the lack of immediacy does not make a relevant ethical difference. Former players' suffering is real and lamentable, whether it is projected on millions of screens or not, and these hidden harms are nevertheless made possible by us.
The misery of the enslaved child harvesting cocoa is a crucial point of ethical consideration, even though it occurs halfway across the globe and remains unseen as one savors a candy bar.
By supporting the NFL, we are complicit in the harm to former, present and future players. Furthermore, we have other options for entertainment that don't involve irrevocable physical damage.
We need change now. I encourage all to make the ethical choice with me to boycott not just the Super Bowl, but football altogether.
Michael Bennett McNulty is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota.