A lifelong Oakland Raiders fan, best-selling author Steve Almond is giving up the game he loves.
He adored Kenny Stabler, Cliff Branch, and Otis Sistrunk and the glory years of the silver-and-black, but he can no longer participate in the weekend ritual of watching football.
Almond witnessed Jack Tatum's paralyzing hit on Patriot receiver Darryl Stingley as a youth, and when his mother experienced dementia from an accident in 2009, he found himself in a moral dilemma and could no longer support a game in which one-third of its players will leave with brain injuries. His dissenting perspective can be found in "Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto," a new book detailing the case against America's most popular sport.
"My whole goal is just to get people to see football for what it truly is -- not just the thrilling spectacle, but the dark side of the game," he said. "Fans are sponsoring a game that does profound damage to the men who play it, that fosters a tolerance for violence and degrades our educational mission."
He provides a diverse array of evidence that includes the latest research findings on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and its recent victims Junior Seau (12-time Pro Bowl Selection) and Dave Duerson (Chicago Bears); the abusive relationship between former Miami Dolphin teammates Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito; the death of Frostburg fullback Derek Sheely; the Jameis Winston (Florida State) sexual assault allegations; the league's exploitation of Pat Tillman's (Arizona Cardinals) death; and the unbridled "nihilistic greed" of the NFL.
The book's publication occurred two weeks before the release of the Ray Rice elevator video that increased public scrutiny of the Baltimore Ravens and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Since the book was published, more cases of domestic abuse by NFL players have surfaced, and All-Pro Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been charged with child abuse. Almond wrote it for everyone whose lives are affected by the game.
"I'd like everyone to read the book," he said. "Football is the biggest unifying narrative in the country. It touches the lives of every single American, even if you're not a fan. Some of the best responses I've gotten to the book have come from people who have no interest in football, but live with fanatics."
"Against Football" also focuses on the one-sided economics of the game and challenges the NFL's nonprofit status as an organization generating revenue of $10 billion per year. The book cites Art Modell's $200 million deal with the state of Maryland to bring the Browns to Baltimore as detrimental to the city.
"The taxpayers of Baltimore paid hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a stadium for Art Modell," he writes, "and virtually all the profits went into his pocket. He quadrupled the value of his franchise. That affects every single person in Baltimore."
Almond is not proposing that everyone stop watching football immediately. To him, it's a matter of personal choice. But he'd like them to think about what they are doing when they turn on the television or don their Steve Smith Sr. jersey and head to M&T Bank Stadium.
"I want fans to be in a state of moral struggle -- then to do as their own consciences recommend. For me, that struggle resulted in my turning away from the game. But for other fans, they might look at the game and decide that it's still worth watching. That's a legitimate outcome."
In the book, Almond also offers suggestions for reforming the game. He recommends the revocation of the NFL's not-for profit status, the creation of helmets that record every sub-concussive hit and the enforcement of a weight limit on players, among other things. He believes fans have the power to change the game by remembering that they are in charge.
"We can, and should, use the power to reshape the game in ways that make it less destructive to the bodies of the players, to the economic fate of our cities and to the national soul," he writes.
Almond is saddened that he can no longer watch a game that he calls "an intricate form of art."
"I felt bad watching the game," Almond said. "I also believe that football has gotten a free ride for a long time, simply because we love it so much."