Confession: I’m a Football Fan Who Doesn’t Like Athletes

Chief Osceola and Renegade, mascot for Florida...
Chief Osceola and Renegade, mascot for Florida State University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes you have to own your ugly. This is mine.

I am a fantasy football playing, college team cheering, NFL-loving chick who spends hours every weekend glued to the television watching men run up and down a field in tights. I bust celebration dances when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers manage to do the impossible and win a game. I dress my daughter in Falcons onesies. Yes, I love the game–but I don’t love them pros.

My husband showed me a picture of a mock jersey for Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston, whose Heisman-worthy season has recently been overshadowed by rape allegations. Where Winston’s name would have been, the fan pasted one word on the jersey: INNOCENT. I made a stank face and turned my head. The ensuing conversation forced me to admit that I suffer from a lingering case of athlete envy.

Back in grade school, I resided squarely in the category of nerdy kid. I lived and breathed my grades and any accolades that came from them, but secretly craved the pixie dust that made people inhale the farts of athletes and swear they didn’t stink. I pretended to hate them and their cloying fans.

I thought adulthood would be the great equalizer, and then I grew up. Teaching at FSU, I met many wonderful student-athletes (I was Christian Ponder‘s English 101 teacher, my claim to fame). But something bothered me. “Tutors” shadowed the athletes everywhere, poking their heads in classroom windows to make sure butts were in seats and collecting homework assignments for Blackboard. It was a hand-holding I’d never seen before. If all this sounds aboveboard to you, consider that the FSU athletics department was penalized for an academic cheating scandal.

To some student-athletes, school is just a part-time gig hindering their real job: being an athlete. This rankles. So many students fight to maintain grade point averages for skimpy scholarships and struggle to eat, while athletes swagger across campus full on meal plans they skip out on some days.

One college football player told me he had no idea everyone on campus didn’t have a meal plan.

I was flabbergasted at the entitlement until I realized just how insulated athletes can be.

I was lucky enough to visit the athletics building and see for myself the fabled fountains of Gatorade and golden toilet seats. Only one of those is a hyperbole. There was a beautiful filigreed metal tree on the wall, with engraved Plexiglas pictures of white-haired saints alumnae who had donated millions to the program. This is why FSU’s name still rings bells even after decades of having a mediocre football team. Money.

This is why they coddle athletes from birth to pro. Money. This is why, when athletes are accused of doing awful things, police officers warn the alleged victim that they will be raked over the coals in a football town. Power. This is why fans attempt to hunt down and spread the name and image of alleged rape victims to discredit them. Mania. Fans border on worship, becoming devotees of impervious gods who couldn’t care less about their existence.

The worst in football fandom is the epitome of rape culture.

Not that Winston could not be innocent of rape. He may be. I am waiting on a trial and verdict before casting any opinions on the matter. But the Steubenville rape case is a prime example of what happens when society prizes a game over people. The laments are not concerning an alleged victim, but that “poor boy’s” tarnished future, even if that “poor boy” turns out to be a sexual predator.

If no one protected athletes at all costs for the sake of a team, “football culture” would not exist. We all contribute to this culture that makes heroes out of men, but demonizes them when they fall short of the glory. Especially the black ones. I disapprove of both the coddling and the abandonment. So when I say I don’t like athletes, it is a blanket statement that thinly describes the disdain I feel for the mythos of the athlete, and not the people behind the personas.

I have heard it said that sports is a benevolent good. No; sports is a kajillion-dollar industry that chews up young bodies and spits them out once they are broken. The real gods are not on the playing field but in sky boxes wearing suits and penny loafers. And they never, ever stop laughing.

7 thoughts on “Confession: I’m a Football Fan Who Doesn’t Like Athletes

  1. Your example is exactly why I advocate for athletics to be separate from Universities. Make them a type of college-level varsity and pay them a salary for their work and the physical strain on their bodies, but DON’T pay their tuition. Let them pay it out of their salary if they want. I fail to understand how that caliber of athletics is conducive to a successful college career WITHOUT making the student athletes into students by name only.

  2. I attended a high school that did not have athletics; the finest boy was black and played the cello, wore Ralph Lauren and had braces. I went to UGA and it was a culture shock. I graduated from one of the top schools in GA and NO ONE got a scholarships from the UGA; not even our Valedictorian who also had a perfect 1600 (old scale).

    Imagine our surprise to learn a bunch of dudes who barely got the minimum SAT and gpa’s so low they would have been ‘invited to leave my high school’ were getting full scholarships and other perks for a university education. For what? Football? What heck is football? It was especially trying because white people swore that all the regular black students like me were mere affirmative action cases and got preferential treatment.

    I’d readily point out the admission stats for blacks versus whites which at that time. There was very little difference between SAT score and incoming GPA–then pointed those Black guys on the football team–who if they were just regular folks would not be admitted at all into the University. ‘Oh but those guys are different.’ O_x <—aneurysm

    Of course, they are. I effing hate the game and all the sordid 'politricks' that surround it.

  3. Oh, I’m being absolutely biased, and I definitely own up to that.

    Taking the rape aspect out of it (because, let’s face it, the dynamics of rape usually deserve their own address outside of the framework of sports, etc), my underlying issue is indeed that some high profile athletes are shielded from consequence. But not just consequence, they are given a privilege that others often are not, and this can make them hard to be around.

    Racism in athletics runs rampant, I think, couched in envy. Admire musculature but malign character. We are definitely all complicit. But you gotta admit at least a little that sports culture is set up to coddle and produce certain expectations of preferential treatment to athletes? Not even a little? 🙂

  4. I think you are being somewhat biased here. If the Steubenville rape case says something about how society prizes a game over people, then what does the Duke Lacrosse case or the Brian Banks case say? I think high profile athletes are often unfairly protected. The flipside, however, is that they are also visible targets on and off the field. When one of them behaves badly, they should be punished accordingly. And so too should anyone who covers up for them. I just think that athletes, black male athletes in particular, are presumed guilty when they shouldn’t be (no one should). When a case like Jameis Winston comes up, I like to completely reserve judgment. There are too many examples of people being dead wrong with their initial thoughts. Ideally, you shouldn’t even know Jameis Winston is involved in this case unless and until there is a conviction. His information, like hers, should be protected unless and until there is a conviction for a crime…or for falsely reporting a crime. In my opinion, when you begin by talking about the Steuben Rape case and how insulated some athletes are, you are already stacking the deck against them and Jameis Winston in this case. It would be no different than me talking about false rape accusations (Brian Banks case), then segueing into the Jameis Winston case. I’ve already set up the narrative. Even if I say she may not be lying, I’ve already made it clear the context in which one should evaluate her claims. Having said all that, I agree that some athletes, high profile athletes in particular, are shielded from the consequences of their actions against others. The problem is that many others are also shielded from their actions against them. The position they are in allows them to both exploit and get exploited. And from what I’ve seen, the vast majority of them(black athletes anyway) get exploited far more than they exploit others relatively speaking. The problem then isn’t sports culture as much as it is American or capitalist culture. And were all complicit to some degree.

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