I started watching Buffalo Bills football in 1999.
I was six and the Bills went 11-5 that year. Then, they played the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs and – ya know what? Let’s not talk about that.
The Bills have not made the playoffs since then. The following years have produced a chain of consistent slightly-below-mediocre play that would make the writers of “How I Met Your Mother” weep with jealous rage.
In that time, the Bills have won six games five different times, seven games three times and eight games twice. Despite missing the playoffs 14 years in a row, the Bills have fallen in the Top 5 of the NFL draft just twice in that span. They nabbed Mike Williams (not the one who always gets arrested) and Marcell Dareus (yes, the one who always gets arrested).
I could go on but the point is made. It’s been tough.
As if that weren’t enough, the team’s future in Buffalo was in constant question during that time. From the moment I started watching football through this Tuesday, I was unsure whether the Bills had a future in Buffalo. As time went on, I became convinced they didn’t.
But Terry Pegula changed all that. The team is staying. The burden has been lifted.
So, why does it feel so wrong to celebrate?
If this had all happened ten, five or even two years ago, I’d feel unrestrained joy. But not now.
Not when I know football is a doomed sport.
[caption id=”attachment_625” align=”alignnone” width=”620”] Buffalo is known for its weather, its wings and its football team. But if the NFL loses the public — if the people turn on the league, the sport — then why will it matter that Buffalo is keeping its team?[/caption]
There are a lot of reasons why I’ve grown apart from football in the past year or so.
Not the least among them is the NFL product itself. Frankly, I’m sick of sitting in front of a TV for three and a half hours to watch 10 minutes of action.
But it’s more than that. From the corrupt pool of owners, to the violent, occasionally sociopathic players, it’s becoming more difficult to justify supporting the league. (And that’s not even including college football’s rape epidemic).
But that’s not why the NFL’s doomed. Theoretically, this corruption show disguised as a football league could continue on forever. That is, if it wasn’t for the possibility that the human body isn’t meant to play football.
If you’re a sports fan, you’ve probably heard a good amount about this, the so-called “concussion” issue. But it seems many don’t have a good grasp on how serious the issue is and how complicit the NFL was in making sure no one found out about it.
Take this Boston Globe piece. Among the shocking and saddening facts in this story: recently-retired NFL players are 19 times more likely to develop dementia than the average person; and NFL players can expect to live to about 55 years old.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. What a terrifying disease. You can survive (and with the right enthusiasm, thrive) without an arm, without a leg, without a finger, without a kidney, etc. You can’t live a quality life with a damaged brain. It’s not possible.
Meanwhile, it’s not possible for the NFL to change the rules enough to help any of this. While cutting down on head-shots and actually forcing players to sit during injuries is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t address the root of the problem: sub-concussive hits.
Players constantly colliding is a fundamental reality of football. And a side effect to those collisions is neurological damage. That appears to be a fundamental reality of science.
In the aforementioned Boston Globe piece, Steve Almond made the point that “Over the past few years, a growing body of medical research has confirmed that football can cause traumatic injury to the brain, not as a rare and unintended consequence, but as a routine byproduct of how the game is played.”
I couldn’t possibly sum up my feelings better. Youth football is already suffering from a lack of participation. Whether it’s in 25 years, 50, 100 or five, the NFL will eventually cease to exist.
After about two hours of celebratory tweeting, this all came back to me. Don’t get me wrong — I’m excited for Sunday. I’ll watch. I’ll cheer. But it won’t feel like it once did. Every positive NFL-related development is draped by a dozen negative ones.
Pegula has made sure the Bills stay in Buffalo. But for how long will that matter?
For now, by all means, Buffalo: squish the fish.