Monday, February 12, 2018

My first book review

Ilgunas returns with a heavily researched, passionate argument about the need for America to emulate many other countries and allow its citizens to roam across the land, public as well as private… Earnest, thoughtful, and alarming in places—an optimistic work that urges America toward a profound cultural shift.  Kirkus review of my book, This Land Is Our Land

It's such an odd thing, throwing your book out into the world. You may be content with the book, but there's simply no way of knowing how the rest of the world will receive it.

You probably think it’s at least pretty good. Why else would you take the time to write your book and share it with the world if it’s not at least pretty good? But of course you have doubts, too. You, as writer, can certainly imagine critical responses because you’ve been criticizing your book all along.

So it’s nerve-wracking and exciting publishing a book. You have no idea if you’ve written a runaway bestseller or quite possibly the worst book ever written. That’s why early book reviews are so emotionally potentthey’re either confirmations of your greatest hopes or auguries of your greatest fears.  

Two early book reviewers are Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. They publish reviews months before other book reviewers, and months before your book actually publishes. For my first book, Walden on Wheels, Publisher’s Weekly called my writing as thick as “pancake batter.” Kirkus called it a “middling” memoir.

I hope you don’t mind if I take the liberty of placing yourself in my shoes to show you how traumatizing these early reviews were. Imagine yourself as a first-time 29-year-old author. You’re confident enough to take on such a project, but you’re also insecure enough to be terrified about everything that could possibly go wrong. You’ve just devoted two-and-a-half years of your life to this book. You have no idea if your book is any good. And then you read your first two reviews in which the reviewers savage your book. You wonder if you have any business calling yourself a writer. Should you decide you’ve improperly labeled yourself as a “career writer,”  you will now have to start from scratch if you decide that it’s more responsible to become a teacher or a nurse, due to the fact that you have no other training or useful skills. Meanwhile, all your friends have been in their careers and have been watching their incomes rise for a good many years. Worst of all: You won’t get to read another review for another two months.

This all triggered a rather unpleasant 30-year life crisis, which lasted about three months. The crux of the crisis was this: What am I going to do if I’m not made out to be a writer?

I recognize now how I was wrong to compare my life to my peers' lives, as if life is a race in which I needed to keep up or get ahead. I recognize now how it’s perfectly alright to start a new career at any age. I recognize now that many authors fail early and succeed later. Yet my feelings were very real and human and ordinary: I wanted financial security; I wanted to write only if other people thought my stuff was worth reading; more than anything I wanted directionI wanted to know what I was and what I was supposed to be doing.

Thankfully, the book did quite well. Other critics liked it. Amazon readers gave it mostly positive reviews. It sold (and continues to sell) fairly well. And I got a good deal of press. Taking all of the above into consideration, I now feel confident enough about Walden on Wheels to say that those early book reviewers were wrong, even if my prose can indeed be as thick as pancake batter. The success of the book helped me get past my crisis, and while I’ve wavered over the years on the subject of my career path, I more or less committed to the life of the writer. This realization (let’s also call it a decision)  that I am a career writer  has done more to release me of existential anxiety than any other.

For my second book, Trespassing across America, Kirkus called it “preachy” and I don’t think Publisher’s Weekly even bothered to review it. These reviews didn’t bother me so much. My confidence was stronger and dealing with early criticisms was easier.

The first review of my latest book, This Land Is Our Land (publishing April 10) just came out, and it was one of the nicer reviews I’ve read. Never before has anyone acknowledged my research (the reviewer calls it “heavily researched”), and the reviewer was kind enough to notice the grandness of my ambitions and acknowledge that I was aiming for a “profound cultural shift.” Indeed!

This early review brings me a great deal of comfort. For now at least.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The relevance of Henry David Thoreau

[Daniel Vollaro, a professor at Georgia Gwinnett College, is interviewing subjects for a book he's writing about Thoreau's impact on 21st Century American culture. Below I've listed his questions and my answers.] 

How did you become interested in Thoreau? 

I can’t remember when exactly I became interested in Thoreau. He wasn’t assigned in high school or college. I think I was coming across his name in other books I respected, like Into the Wild. In my early twenties I had this unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I wanted to watch every important movie and read every important book, so his writings were just part of a long list of stuff I wanted to consume.

Can you describe your first encounter with Thoreauvian ideas?

That’s a tough one to answer. Aren’t Thoreauvian ideals already a part of the American subconsciousness? Even if we never read Thoreau, our culture can’t help but acquaint us with Thoreau’s values. More than often, we become aware of the practice of civil disobedience without knowing about Thoreau’s seminal essay on the subject. We look at nature reverently and romantically because of Thoreau’s and other romanticists’ nature writings. So I think I was probably “Thoreauvian” well before I first heard about Thoreau.

But to answer your question more concretely, I was around 22. It was the perfect time for me to be exposed to Thoreau. To have been introduced to him in high school or college would have been premature because I just didn’t have the life experiences that would have made his writings relevant to me. Later on, in my early twenties, Thoreau became relevant. I was heavily in debt, I’d been working as a cart pusher for the Home Depot, and I was beginning to get really suspicious of the consumerist culture and overly-suburbanized landscape around me. My work was soulless, my life was nature-less, and my bank account was nearly money-less. Thoreau’s book would speak to all of these issues. Thoreau, to me, wasn’t quite an epiphany or some ground-breaking discovery. I’d been thinking about a lot of the stuff he had written about on my own, so, more than anything, he helped put words to thoughts, validated my own critical observations, and simply made me feel less alone. 

Walden has inspired many imitators, many of them cabin builders of one kind or another. Your Thoreauvian adventure is unique. Can you explain how "Walden" made its way into the title of your book? 

Inspiration to live in my van came from a few places. When I worked up in Alaska for a few summers, I met people who were living in their vehicles or in small cabins in semi-subsistence villages. Their examples showed me that there are other, more creative, and less expensive ways to live and house yourself. 

Thoreau’s cabin experiment was another useful example of a creative housing arrangement, but he adds something elsean element of asceticism. An ascetic performs his or her act with a public context in mind. He shares his experience with the world. And that's when you go from being a merely frugal person to an ascetic. An ascetic is someone who does something as a stunt. The stunt could also be for personal reasons, but there is always a public component to a stunt. And Thoreau, through his publishing and also by conducting his experiment so close to town, was participating in a very public act. He was a stuntman. 

I think I was combining these clever Alaskans’ housing arrangements with Thoreau’s ascetic performance. In other words, I’d move into my van to live cheap, but I’d blog about my experience to hopefully say something that needed to be said about society.

Home in Wiseman, Alaska

Chevy Suburban, home to a man named James, who lived in this vehicle for six years in Coldfoot, Alaska.

As for "Walden" in my own book’s title (Walden on Wheels), I was really hesitant about including someone else’s book title within my own. And I was thinking about this when I was writing my book. I didn’t want to be constantly referencing or alluding to the writings and deeds of dead men. Too many writers do this. Their books have more quotations from dead men than their own ideas. I think we’re scared to publicize our own opinions. I think this fear comes from our educational backgrounds: when writing anything in college, we have to carefully study, reference, and quote other people. Later on, we feel this unhealthy compulsion to legitimize our thoughts by fitting them within some sort of intellectual legacy. To some extent, it’s admirable, even necessary, to acknowledge the shoulders of the giants we stand on, but too often do our voices get lost amid all these references to the people of the past. Some people go on journeys in homage of someone else’s journey, which is a bit crazy to me when we could, with a little more effort, do something no one has ever done. I’m pretty sure Thoreau wrote about this stuff. At least I knew Emerson did, who complained that our age is too retrospective. “Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?” Emerson wrote. So, yeah, because transcendentalists were writing about this stuff, I was especially hesitant about placing someone else’s title within my own when the whole point of my book was to be something new. But I suppose I thought the title, Walden on Wheels, sounded nice, and it was a lot better than my second-best ideaVandweller

Were you self consciously imitating Thoreau?

Not really, but before I committed to the van, I considered secretly building a hut in the woods. At one point I even considered building a little coffin, or underground “hutch,” and just living in that, inspired as I was with Thoreau’s passage about living in some such box. With the van, I suppose you could say it was more inspiration than imitation. While my experiment certainly had similarities with Thoreau’s, there were fundamental differences. Part of his experiment was living in nature, while I was living in a parking lot next to a busy main street. He was growing his own food and chopping his own wood, while I bought my food at grocery stores and enjoyed the indoor heating systems on campus. The main similarity was that Thoreau had done something ballsy, and I was in the mood to do something ballsy. If there was any imitation, it was that.

I think some people will read Walden on Wheels and be inspired to imitate what you did in some way. Was that your intention in writing the book? What do you hope readers will get out of it?

My intention was definitely not to start some sort of vandwelling movement, though I would have been happy to take credit if such a thing happened. My intention, rather, was to write a book that my 17-year-old self would have enjoyed and benefited from. 
And I suppose, with that in mind, I’d hoped other young men and women might get something out of it, too. 

I’d recognized that my book was a book that needed to be written. For one, the country had a huge student debt (and general debt) problem, but not one book, up until mine, had been written from the student debtor’s perspective. That was crazy, considering that there were like 35 million student debtors. (Now there are 44 million.) Two, I think we needed another Into the Wild-type story (about a young person getting off the school-debt-career conveyor belt), but that didn’t end fatally and that was written from the protagonist’s point of view. And three, I thought people would benefit from living more freely, adventurously, and creatively, and I thought a book about an ordinary person who makes a few bold decisions that lead to even bolder decisions could provide a helpful example. Really, I wanted to do what Thoreau’s book did for me, which is to show that we can take our crazy ideas and turn them into realities. 

My van, a 1994 Ford Econoline. Lived in from 2009 to 2011. RIP: 1994-2015

My book is about the influence of Thoreau in the 21st century. What can we learn from Thoreau in this age of smart phones and streaming television?

Much of what Thoreau has said has been absorbed into the greater culture or expanded upon by subsequent writers, naturalists, and environmental thinkers. So you could make the argument that Thoreau isn’t exactly “required reading.” Yet I think we all like to point to, and need, a rich intellectual legacy for our most beloved subjects. These intellectuals from the past give us the philosophical foundation which we can build on. 
And Thoreau, for many subjects, is the perfect foundation. He can be considered the dark-bearded sage for American naturalists, environmentalists, civil rights advocates, anti-consumerists, and right-to-roamers. Thoreau was a pro at crafting passages that can be quoted on postcards and calendars (or their future equivalent) for centuries. (Ex. “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth,” & “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.") This is a useful skill for somebody who wants their works to outlive himself. 

On another note, it helps that he doesn’t have any serious blemishes on his moral resume. He is a safe figure for we moderns to adore. Thoreau was sympathetic to the plight of Native Americans, accommodating to runaway slaves, outspoken about environmental degradation, and prescient in forecasting the demise of America’s open roaming culture. He was a good friend and family man. If there are examples of him being racist or sexist or some other “ist,” they are few and not serious, at least compared to his contemporaries. Teddy Roosevelt did more to protect American nature, but he's harder to celebrate for all the racism and warmongering. While Roosevelt, 
Muir, Whitman, Jefferson and most other thinkers have moral blemishes on their resumes, Thoreau has made it the to the 21st Century without alienating anybody. He’d fit in quite well here.

He lasts, too, because he was a man of action. He didn't just discuss civil disobedience; he did it. He didn't just condemn the materialistic lifestyle, he built a cabin in the woods and lived in it for two years. When a person has lived a life of action, they're much more easy to romanticize and mythologize. Emerson was brilliant, and his
 essays "Self Reliance" and "Nature" are worth being immortalized, but Thoreau, more than Emerson, is a mythic figure  for the full and adventurous life he lived  which will make him, more than all of his literary peers, a figure for the ages. 

Thoreau wrote about the bustle of an industrializing America. He wrote about the compulsion to keep pace with our neighbors in money and material items. He talked about conserving wildness and nature in a rapidly changing world. These things haven't changed. In fact, they've gotten worse. Thoreau will only be forgotten and he will only become irrelevant when these things get fixed.

There was a practical side to Thoreau's cabin on Walden Pond; he wanted to finish writing a book about his brother.Your motivations were also partially practical. What are the practical reasons for a person to "drop out" of a settled, mainstream existence in 21st century America?

I think there’s always a practical element even behind the most high-minded motivation. The most obvious benefit to a Thoreauvian existence is simply having more time to yourself. And something as simple as an ordinary existence severely limits how much time we have. An ordinary existence requires a house or an apartment, and that requires all the amenities of modern life, from heat, to air-conditioning, to Wi-Fi, etc. We're then required to devote many hours of our day to working for a company, corporation, or organization in an office where we more than likely wouldn’t willfully choose to spend our time. More than often, such a job requires a vehicle. The sedentary lifestyle requires a gym membership. And all of a sudden we’re in this endless and inescapable cycle of work to pay for all these now-necessary things and keep the lights on. But turn the lights off, and forego all the usual comforts, and you no longer need to work as much, and you suddenly have so much more time for reading, writing, reflection, walking, sleeping, and all the things that, for me at least, matter most.

In your book, you mention Thoreau's observations about how his neighbors hated the mundane drudgery of their lives, and yet, he was a person who enjoyed hard work and doing a job with integrity. Did your experience in the van make you reflect on the nature of work and its relationship to your life? To the lives of others?

The end goal for me is not to escape work and live a life of decadent leisure, but to create a set of conditions that enable me to do the work I really want to do. And I think this desire comes from a series of jobs I’ve had that made me routinely miserable. I’ve been a cashier, cart pusher, dishwasher, landscaper, ice skate sharpener, short order cook, tour guide, and motel cleaner. Usually I was underpaid and often my work was unappreciated. 

I think I also felt, deep down, that the product of my work was ultimately unnecessary. I’ve spent a great deal of my working hours attending to the comforts of middle-to-upper class tourists. I’ve spent a great deal of time working for the fossil fuel industry, an industry I have no interest in supporting. Ultimately, if I didn’t exist and didn’t perform these tasks, the world would be no worse off. 

My situation was not unusual. So many of us spend our days selling some cheap plastic piece of crap that will be used once, or some garment to someone who already has a closet full of unused clothes. Let’s face it, a great deal of the work we do serves no useful, substantial purpose whatsoever, and I think this is often felt, if unconsciously. And when we spend forty hours of the week doing it, it makes our lives feel a little bit more meaningless. Yes, we may be very meaningfully feeding our families from the wages we make selling that plastic piece of crap, but in the best of both worlds, we produce or sell something meaningful and use our earnings on something meaningful.

I consider myself a writer, but I also really enjoy the work of gardening, building fences and chicken coops, revitalizing soil, tending to an orchard and a flock of chickens. This is largely because these tasks, for me, existed outside the normal, company-based work routine in which we’re carefully monitored by superiors. Our break time is carefully measured. We work within a mostly uncaring corporate bureaucracy. We seldom get to enjoy or take part in the very products or services we’re providing. Our work is so unintegrated with our actual lives. Thoreau hoed his beans, chopped his wood, and built his own home, and I think there’s a deep and meaningful and unabstract pleasure that comes from seeing and enjoying and even tasting the fruits of our labors.

Monday, January 29, 2018

This Land Is Our Land: Haters Welcome

The jacket for my book, coming out April 10, 2018.
I have a hunch that This Land Is Our Land will be viciously attacked.

This hunch comes from two places: 1. A review of my book by National Parks Traveler, a website devoted to covering issues related to parks; and, 2. My Backpacker Magazine article on Scotland’s right to roam. The review was positive and I was happy with how the Backpacker article turned out, but it was in the Facebook comment sections for these articles where my ideas were angrily dismissed and I was personally attacked.

For the National Parks Traveler article, reader David Schultz says, “Ilgunas is having a wet dream. This will never happen nor should it. Apparently, he doesn’t understand the definition of private property.” Reader Brian Emch says “Right to roam my arse. The author is obviously just a libtard who wants to go anywhere he wants.”

The Backpacker audience didn’t concern themselves with the details of my wet dreams (which are about things far more exciting than the right to roam, believe me), but these readers weren’t any more enthusiastic about the right to roam:

Comments on my article on Backpacker's Facebook page. 
The somewhat alarming thing about these responses is that these people (people who love parks, the outdoors, and hiking) should be my base! They should be my supporters! Yet I’m getting loud and really cranky opposition from them. What’s it going to be like when libertarians, big landowners, and the far right hear of my idea or read my book? It’s not going to be pretty.    

You might think that I’m upset by all of this. Not one bit. I knew that my idea  that citizens should be able to responsibly access the great bulk of our nation’s lands and waters  would be controversial. And I realize how the enactment of a right to roam law, should it come to that, is a long way away. So I’m okay if my book doesn’t automatically lead to legislation. I’m okay if the right to roam doesn’t happen in my lifetime. I'm okay if a lot of people hate the idea at first. 

When it comes to saying something radical (but right and true and just), I like how the late British MP, Tony Benn, put it: “First they ignore you, then they say you're mad, then dangerous, then there's a pause and then you can't find anyone who disagrees with you.”

I know the right to roam is right the same way I know universal suffrage, universal healthcare, and democracy are right. I know the right to roam is the right policy for an advanced country devoted to equality, good health, and justice. So I’m not worried about being wrong. And I’m not worried about a few uninformed, if earnest, comments from Facebook users (who might not be so critical if they read my book because I do indeed address all of their most common concerns).

The only thing I’m worried about is step one in Benn’s progression: Getting ignored. I’d prefer that I skip ahead to steps two and three, when everyone can call me mad and dangerous.

Honestly, the best thing that could happen for the right to roam is for me and my book to get burnt at the (metaphorical) stake. We should die the heretic's death: that is, die loudly and symbolically, surrounded by naysayers chanting for blood. This way, the idea can go as far as it can. It can reach as many eyes as possible. Then, at a later date, once we’ve all calmed down, once the idea has had time to slowly and more gently seep in the collective consciousness, maybe we can begin an earnest debate about the right to roam.

First comes blood, then comes bills. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

New article in Backpacker Magazine

My piece in Backpacker Magazine ran last week. It's part of their "public lands" issue, so the article has as much to do with my Scottish hike as the public lands situation in America. 

The photos below are from my hike, from Inverie to Fort William.

Monday, January 15, 2018

I don’t know if I can watch football anymore

During the Bills-Jaguars playoff game last week, two Bills players went down with head injuries. When I watched football years ago, an injury timeout was a bathroom break. Now it's a lump in my throat.

Head injuries, and what we now know about head injuries, have changed the way I watch the game. Each time a running back gets stood up at the line, I see CTE. Each time a receiver goes up for a ball, I see CTE. Each time the ball is snapped, I see CTE.

CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is the brain disease that leads to depression, dementia, and early death among athletes who take repetitive hits to the head.

Ive watched football since I was a little boy. I played organized football from ages 11 to 18. It taught me discipline, toughness, teamwork. I knew the primal joy of driving your shoulder into a QBs ribs. I loved football. Part of me still loves the game.

It’s more than just the thrill of being on the field. Its a family conversation topica noncontroversial go-to that serves as a common interest between my dad and me. Since Ive moved away from Buffalo, I no longer pay attention to local news or politics, but I always keep tabs on the Billsone of the few things that tethers me to my hometown. Its a holiday ritual. Its a source of diversion and high entertainment. Its the reason Ive given more Sunday afternoon hugs and high-fives than I can count. I dont want to stop watching football. But I dont know if I can anymore.

While researchers have known about CTE occurring in NFL players since 2002, its only these past couple of years that fans like myself have become aware of the NFLs CTE problem. A spate of shocking CTE-related suicides have raised public awareness, most notably in 2012 when Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau shot himself in the chest, just three years after retiring. Seau had CTE, as have at least eight other former NFL players whove committed suicide in the past ten years. 

CTE sank in for me when, a few years ago, I found out that Pro Bowl linebacker and tackling-machine Darryl Talley, was suffering from CTE-like symptoms. As a boy, I remember watching Talley hunt down running backs in his trademark Spider-Man ski suits that hed wear under his Buffalo Bills uniform on the Billsearly 90s Super Bowl teams. Talley, who retired in 1996, has since suffered from depression, chronic injuries, and suicidal thoughts.

His mental issues have accelerated a lot in the last year,said Darryls wife, Janine Talley, to The Buffalo News. “I dont know what the future holds for either one of us. I dont know if in a few years dementia will set in. I dont know if Ill be able to care for him.

Before, I used to cheer whenever there was a big hit. Now I cringe. Before, when players got concussions, I figured they'd gotten their "bell rung" and would be back the following week. Now I imagine them suffering years later from a horrible brain disease. Before, I thought I was being entertained by rich and very lucky athletes. Now I think I'm watching human beings destroy their bodies. And for what? To entertain me?

Darryl Talley an amazing, unstoppable athlete is now likely up against a brain disease that he's totally defenseless against. And maybe it's partly my fault. It was I who cheered him on to make tough tackles, to play 204 straight games at one of the most punishing positions in the game, to sacrifice his body for his team and fans. Sure, it was Talleys decision to pursue a dangerous career path, but does he deserve all the blame for his condition? Have I not, with my money and my viewership, turned my thumb in approval? As a fan, am I not partly responsible for supporting a game that reloads onto the field one player after another whose body will be injured and sacrificed and eventually golf-carted away?

Societies have done away with gladiatorial combat, duels, and dog fighting because theyve deemed such activities barbaric and inhumane. When does a sport cross the line and become inhumane? What is an unacceptable percentage of NFL players doomed to be diagnosed with CTE? Dr. Ann McKee, a director of neuropathology at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Bedford, Mass, says researchers have an enormously high hit ratefor discovering CTE among deceased NFL players. The brains brought in for study have often been from players who suspected they had CTE, so the numbers are flawed but no less startling: Of the 111 brains of deceased NFL players that have been analyzed, 110 have tested positive for CTE, or 99 percent.

More alarmingly, research has shown that its not just the big-hit concussions that cause CTE, but the frequent subconcussive hits.Dr. Robert A. Stern, a co-founder of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University, estimates that an NFL lineman experiences 1,000-1,500 hits over the course of a season. So on virtually every play we may be seeing CTE developing somewhere on the field. And despite new rules designed to prevent head injuries, there were 199 concussions in 2015, 77 more than the 2014 season’s total.

In 2015, promising Bills rookie Karlos Williams, a big and fast 230-pound running back, known for his downhill power running, experienced a concussion in Week 4 against the Giants. He was out for a month. For days, Williams had to sit in a dark room without light or sound.

Its not going to change the way I run the football,Williams told reporters. It hasnt changed the way I run the football. I run the football with an attitude. And I think thats what the coaches expect of me coming back.

A player like Williams got to where he is because of his running style. As a fifth round pick in a cutthroat league, Williams knew he couldnt let up. To remain in the NFL, he has to run with attitude,which is another way of saying that he has to continue to run without worrying about getting another concussion. Unlike the players in Talleys era, Williams probably knows of CTE, yet it didn’t slow down him or his fellow players. 

I squirmed whenever Williams got the ball. I want to just root for players to score. But now I root that they don’t get nailed in the head. With knowledge of CTE, the game no longer seems merely tough. Suddenly it feels grotesquely violent, savage, depraved.

Weve long known that football was dangerous. But up until recently, we thought dangerousmeant that the players might retire from the league with busted knees and sore backs. We imagined our childhood heroes leaving the game with a hard-earned limpan inconvenience, but also a scar theyd proudly bear as payment for their years in the spotlight when they had money, fame, and glory. We imagined them coaching a high school football team, or, if theyre lucky, joshing around with fellow ex-ball players on one of those half-time analyst panels. We never imagined them broke, living with dementia, or suicidal.

More and more, I notice the injuries. It seems rare when a full possession goes by without anyone getting hurt. Between 2000 and 2014, there was an average of more than 2,000 injuries in the NFL per year. Because of all these injuries, football players find themselves battered and addicted to pain medications at the end of their careers. The NFL expects that 6,000 of its 20,000 former players will suffer from Alzheimers or dementia. 

Head injuries are not just an NFL problem. The brains of kids between the ages of 8 and 13 are particularly susceptible to concussions, one of which makes them one and a half times more likely to experience a second. High school football players experience 11.2 concussions for 10,000 practices and games, which may be a fraction of the real number, as studies have shown that 50 percent of high school concussions and 70 percent of college concussions go unreported. In the brains of high school football players, CTE has been found in three of 14 cases. In college players, its 48 of 53.

Parents, though, are taking notice. According to an HBO Real Sports/Marist poll, 89 percent of fans are aware of the connection between concussions and long-term brain injury. About a third of adults polled said this information has made them less likely to allow their son to play football. This is supported by a Sports & Fitness Industry Association survey, which found that, between 2008 and 2013, kids playing football between the ages of 6 and 12 fell 29 percent.  

Aside from inventing some new concussion-free super helmet, I dont know if theres much else the NFL can do to limit head trauma. Theyve made late hits and helmet-to-helmet hits big-yardage penalties. Theyve instituted a concussion protocol for injured players. They settled a $1 billion lawsuit with over 5,000 ex-players who have suffered and were mislead about the risks of concussions. Yet there are as many concussions as ever, not to mention the head trauma thats a part of each play.

So, given that the danger inherent in the game will never go away, I feel its up to me as a fan to decide if Im okay watching people destroy themselves every week. I dont think I am, but I still watch.

What will it take? Another high-profile suicide? Another discovery of CTE in one of my favorite players?

Perhaps I should say goodbye, but, after so many years, its hard to look away.