I know, I know, what a ridiculous hot take. But hear me out!
So I was scrolling through Instagram, like you do, when I saw an ad (does anyone else get SO MANY ADS these days???) for Nike. It was a super cool video of girls playing football in the dark and rain, exciting music, and so on. The final message was that Nike is spending some large sum of money to promote having women’s flag football in every school in America by 2023. Cool! I would totally have played! I opened the comments, curious if anyone else was annoyed they weren’t all pushing for the boys to play flag football too. Well. I should have known better.
“You make football better?! I dont understand why they dont just give ’em pads and put them on the field with the boys then.”
“If they’re so tough and they sacrifice just as much, make them play real football, where men sacrifice their memory and their body sometimes.”
“How does flag football makes football better?”
“Why flag and not tackle ???”
These are the tame version of the comments, after the platform has taken down some of the most offensive offerings. But the attitude is the same. It ain’t football unless they’re hitting each other.
This is especially perplexing amid the growing concern among the football community about the dangers associated with the sport, especially the long-term health risks of repeatedly being hit. Concussions are extremely common, and repeated concussions can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition that can lead to serious symptoms, even death. Vox did a great article explaining a little bit more about the problems associated with concussions in football, and it’s a good intro if your not familiar with the topic.
There have been a lot of discussions in the past five years about what can be done to make football safer. None of those discussions have led to any meaningful change because, not shockingly, they are worried about how much money they would lose if people lose interest. *insert eye rolling here*
It’s not like football is the only violent sport out there. In ice hockey players are allowed to get in punching matches uninterrupted by the referee as long as it’s 1-v-1. Sure, they serve 5 minutes in the penalty box after, but it’s always a highlight of the game. According to CNN, an average of 13 boxers die in the boxing ring every year. We enjoy watching NASCAR races, and the dangers of going 200 miles an hour less than a foot away from the person in front of you only making it more thrilling. And if this picture of a Mixed Martial Arts match doesn’t scream Hunger Games at you, I don’t know what will.
It’s not like Americans are the only people who enjoy violent sports. Rugby is certainly no cake-walk, and international fútbol is well known for having violent fans, sometimes called hooligans, get in huge fights before or after the matches. Hockey is as popular in northern parts of Europe as it is the US, and racing cars and boxing are popular all over the world. But we seem to have this unique perspective that it isn’t a “real sport” unless someone gets hurt. I don’t know, international readers, call me out in the comments if this is just as pervasive in your country.
Flag football isn’t a real sport. If they really wanted to be just as good as the boys they’d put on pads and start hitting each other. If they really wanted us to watch they would run crashing into each other at fifteen miles an hour as hard as they could. Because THAT’S what makes a sport entertaining.
All sports carry a risk of injury. Heck, all ACTIVITIES carry a risk of injury. But to me there’s a difference between a runner pulling a muscle, or a gymnast landing wrong on her ankle compared to someone punching someone else in the face until they are literally knocked unconscious. But maybe I’m just a sissy.
American sports aren’t so different than The Hunger Games. The deaths and injuries that happen as a result just aren’t as immediate and obvious. I just hope it doesn’t take someone dying on camera before we figure it out.