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  • Ken Ilgunas

When will I stop watching football?

Every half an hour I check for updates on Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin. Watching Hamlin collapse after a hard but routine hit — and seeing the grief-stricken faces of his teammates as the doctors performed CPR — were the most disturbing images I’ve seen during a sports match. (Because I’m in Germany, I saw the footage in morning recaps and highlights, which were no less sickening.)

Will the next piece of news be about Hamlin’s death? Or will there soon be a photo of him in his hospital bed accompanying a tweet expressing gratitude for all the support?

This Sunday there will be somber memorials to Hamlin and a heightened consciousness about the brutality of the game. The NFL has responded honorably enough — as have all the players, analysts, and fans — but in a week or two Hamlin may well be a forgotten footnote to the season as fans refocus on their teams’ playoff journeys. Disturbed as I am, I will probably be among them, rooting for the Bills’ best shot at a Super Bowl in decades.

Will I still keep watching if Hamlin dies? If I keep watching, then I wonder what it would take for me to stop. More on-field CPR? More suicides by ex-NFL players? I felt sickened watching Nick Foles convulse and Tua experience concussion after brutal concussion. We can infer from data that many, if not most, NFL players may suffer from permanent brain damage. Shouldn’t that be enough reason to stop watching?

The last thing I want is for this to be sanctimonious or “judgy,” so I’ll keep the focus on my own moral predicament. I suppose I’m wondering if I’m engaging in an immoral act by watching and thus supporting this game. What’s stopping me from shifting my attention to sports that are almost equally thrilling — though less harmful — such as hockey, soccer, and basketball? Part of the issue is that football, for me, is a social glue, a family tradition, a connection to my home country, and, sometimes, a source of joyful suspense, drama, and athletic mesmerization. I don’t get these things from the other sports.

But the ties to the sport are not ironclad, and my tolerance for the game is not unlimited. The show may well go on for the rest of my life, and I wonder if I’ll ever look away.


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