I think the easy thing would be to write one sentence and move on, but where’s the fun with that?

Last fall, when I wrote about getting rid of the NFL, I received the most criticism about a specific The RID Project post. One of the ripple effects was there were times I had something critical to say about Husker football, and the response was, “Oh yeah, why don’t you get rid of Husker football then?!”*

*Because, as you know, true fans blindly support their team, and hammer anyone who has something to say that doesn’t echo their own take.

I didn’t want to do this out of spite, or to show someone else up. I wanted it to be a decision on my own accord. Over the course of a few months, an idea begin to germinate within me. At some point, I knew I wanted to act on it. I can’t recall when that was exactly, but a series of events led to it.

I’m taking a minimum one year sabbatical from Husker football. I will not watch, or listen to, the games. I will not follow the team by listening to talk radio discuss the team. I will do my best to not read about the team online, or in the paper. I’ve unfollowed a number of journalists who cover the Huskers, and college football, from Twitter and the Twitter lists I’ve created.

I can’t recall a season where I didn’t watch a Husker football game. Some of my earliest memories are Husker football. I’ve blogged about the team incessantly in the past. This season will be a first for me.

I think there will be two major camps who both think this is ridiculous. There will be the camp that thinks it is ridiculous because I’m only getting rid of some mid-western college football team that hasn’t been nationally relevant since last century. And then there will be the other camp that thinks its ridiculous because I’m a Nebraskan that has followed the Huskers closely since birth.

Here are some of the reasons why I’m getting rid of the Huskers for awhile.

Player Well-Being – This is the catalyst to all this. I don’t think I need to rehash my thoughts on football players and long-term health. (In 2010, I wrote a post about it, and earlier in the year as well.) Thankfully, coaches and players have a better understanding of what the health effects are of the modern game, and how to best treat them. Still, there are effects. The tension for coaches, and players, is to push the limits of health just for a win or a starting job.

Is it the players choice? It is, for the most part, but do they have any idea the risks they are taking about their long term health? Do they have an understanding of how the long term effects will affect them when they are a husband and/or father? In the NFL, the average tackle is 1600 pounds of force. That is repeated punishment to the body, no matter what position you play. It’s not just games, it’s in practices as well. Why are the players doing it? In college, they receive no salary or long-term insurance benefits. While there are very few that achieve “glory”, most play for the continued success of their football program. Free schooling? For some, but there are plenty more who don’t care, or are pressured to not pursue a heavy course load so it doesn’t interfere with football.

It’s also disappointing to hear fans mock players who don’t have the alleged mental or emotional strength to handle the pressure of playing Division I football. Because the rest of us wouldn’t have cracked under the pressure. Right.

It’s almost impossible to not think of the long-term effects of players when I watch now. While taking a break from the game, I find myself more concerned for the players well-being. It’s interesting reading the stories behind the players.

“Worship” – People joke about it around here, and some Christians make half-hearted remarks about it, but it dominates people’s lives. Many orient their lives around Husker football. It dictates important decisions, like scheduling weddings, conferences and other events. When the Huskers lose, the mood of the state deteriorates. People don’t attend church the following day by roughly 10%. You come across people at church who don’t know much about the Bible, but they sure know the ins and outs of the fourth string I-Back.

What’s it all for? Why invest thousands of hours and dollars a year, not to mention the emotional investment, for something with a diminishing return? Why bend your morals to defend someone you would not if they weren’t associated with Husker football? Because many don’t seem to have joy in following the team. What glory does it bring? What is the payoff of going berserk over a bunch of 18-22 year olds? That’s not to say following sports is a complete waste, but to those who orient their lives to the football program…why?

Is this really the only calling card we have, as Nebraskans, to the rest of the world? A football program that revels in its glory days?

A poignant moment I had as a father was a few years ago. The Huskers were playing Virginia Tech, and lost the game in the last minute. I reacted in some way that had Liam concerned. I saw this, and realized this was ridiculous. Even more ridiculous? I still needed some time to gather myself. Liam had been watching the game with me, cheering on Ndamukong Suh, but he just wanted to be with his dad. Now here I am frustrated, over a game, and I can’t even connect with my son who wants to play.

Jana saw what was going on, and took Liam and Duncan outside to play. I went to my bedroom to try and compose myself. Five minutes later, Liam comes into the room. “Daddy, are you okay?” In the moment before I answered, I knew I had to make a choice to rule what I was thinking and feeling. “Yes. Yes Liam, I’m okay.” He just wanted his dad to play with, nothing else. I smiled, and we went outside and played. He was loving it, and I was as well. I told myself I wasn’t going to ever let a game adversely affect my responsibilities as a dad.

Influence and Scandals – Do football coaches/players need to be treated like they walk on water for what they do? Around here, some treat Rex Burkhead as the second coming of Christ. Rex is a solid, young man, but unfortunately they all can’t be like Rex.

The frustrating thing is the enabling which fosters the kind of environment where fans turn a blind eye to their own programs cheating and poor behavior. I can still recall the arguments made in defense of Lawrence Philips and Christian Peter, despite their criminal behavior, by Husker fans. At the time it was indefensible, but almost twenty years later it seems ludicrous. And while they represent a minority of the fanbase, those Huskers “fans” that taunted Christian Peter’s rape victim…I should censor myself here. Every fanbase has their idiotic fans.

The numerous scandals at multiple football programs have become tiresome. Even worse than some of the sordid things coming out of these scandals? People defending them. Granted, some of the NCAA rules are stupid and out-of-touch, but I don’t want to abide by a philosophy of “if you’re not cheating you’re not trying”.

And then there is Penn State.

Think of what happened at Penn State with the children that were raped by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The acts were covered up, and children were left to face the effects of rape alone, because some “leaders” didn’t want to jeopardize the football program’s image.

One of the victims, who was a whistle-blower in the Sandusky case, faced derision from people in the Penn State community. That’s sickening. That’s reality in college football. A program’s fans will defend its own program blindly, even it means disposing of an individual.

Joe Paterno was once considered a “saint” because he won a lot of football games and talked the talk. Now? A disgrace, who showed he was only concerned about “his playground”. The scandal was allowed to happen because of Joe’s influence and misplaced priorities. It could have happened anywhere, including Nebraska.

24/7/365 – Following Husker football has become non-stop. It’s wearying, and annoying. With recruiting news, I became frustrated that some random teenager’s decision on where to attend “school” was affecting me so much. The developing passing mechanics of a certain QB, for instance, are breaking news pieces, until the following week’s article which basically says the same thing. Spring football and off season workout news is 90% waste. (“…bigger, stronger, faster…team unity…good attitude…like new players/coaches…new offense will utilize strengths…best units yet…”) It’s pointless.

Football – I’m just not into football like I use to be. I’m not sure how much of a fan I ever was of the sport, compared with other sports. I enjoy following the NBA, MLB, EPL and international soccer more. I don’t have the time to give to the sport.

There’s more I could say, but I think I have made my point. I’m not against following the sport. I want the Huskers to do well.

Can the Huskers be avoided? No, not in this state. With the way it dominates life, I’ll stay up-to-date without even trying. It’ll be nice to have more time throughout the fall.

Why also do this? Perhaps to shine a light on some of the absurdity with fandom.

Again, considering some of the remarks I heard from people before, I can’t wait to hear what comes my way this time. Tim Keller talks about how when someone opposes the “idol” of a particular community, violence is a common response from the community. What an idol is, and what violence is, can vary from what comes to mind initially. It’ll be interesting to track what happens when this post goes up.

I know, I know, football is where boys become men, where leaders are made, a band of brothers are formed…blah, blah, blah. Just a hunch here, but I think men, and leaders, can be developed outside the football field. Probably more effectively, I might add.

And yes, other sports have injury risks and scandals. I’ve had people mock me about my concern with concussions and football. Apparently, I’m one of those parents that would have their kids always wear a helmet.

This past Friday night, I was driving through Bennington and saw the stadium lights on. From afar, it was a beautiful, Americana sight. The line of cars streaming into the parking lot to watch two communities’ high school football teams battle it out. I turned out of the way to drive by, and then turned around to drive by again. The idea of what “friday night lights” is can be enthralling. I pulled away, and wondered about everything I’ve been thinking about with the game of football the past few years. I don’t think I’ll be able to enjoy watching a game like I once did.

As far as the 2012 Huskers? I don’t know. I hope the players do well and stay healthy. I’ll have peace of mind, and time for more important matters, no matter the team’s record.

4 thoughts on “The RID Project: Husker Football (Update #26)

  1. I live in Sooner Nation……… My passive/aggressive side would like to forward the link to this post to several of my favorite people. Nicely written.


  2. That's friggen Awesome.

    I'm a Anti-Husker fan & it is because of the culture in Nebraska that I found when I moved here.

    You of course say it much better.

    I'll be sharing this link.


  3. The two things I always get form your writing is perspective and commitment. I don't always agree with your view or stance, but I love understanding and respecting yours.

    We humans are something. We can mess up a game, a church, a family and even a child … especially when we lack perspective and commitment.

    I'll be watching Husker football this year. I'll even have a private freak-out moment over something in the game that matters none in life and then ask you if you liked it. šŸ™‚ That's what I love about life and friendship, it's yours to live.

    GBR! Go Big Robert. You're a great guy, keep writing and I hope to see you soon.


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