Football vs. Furry Friend (#211)

I grew up in Washington, D.C., on football, in a football town. The Vice-Principal of my Junior High was a Dallas Cowboys fan. Every time Dallas played D.C., he’d get on the PA system before the game and taunt the student body, telling us how Dallas would win the next game. We’d respond by singing (yelling), “Fight on, fight on, till you have won/ Sons of Washington” at him in the hallways.

My high school football team lost to the juggernaut that was T.C. Williams (of Remember the Titans) every year, but we sent several players to the NFL. I went to a huge football school in college, and continued rooting for them as an alum. In the Rose Bowl, I cheered my college team on in person  (a very poor person, those tickets weren’t cheap) as they won the National Championship. At the Fiesta Bowl another year, they lost and sent me and my friend JM into a depression (and near bankruptcy because tickets AND hotel).

Even though I loved the game, with its addictive turnovers and sudden swings of momentum, it’s always been clear there is something rotten in football. From day one, the players payed a heavy physical price, while the NFL was considered a “nonprofit” for decades. And while the fans’ loyalty to their team was boundless, the reverse was never true. Teams demanded new, tax-payer funded stadiums. They switched cities like extortionate toddlers if the locals couldn’t – or wouldn’t – meet their demands.

When the grim medical findings about repeated concussions surfaced, the NFL did its best to sink the reports. Former players still haven’t been fully compensated for mental and physical disabilities suffered while making billions for team owners. Many players with CTE have committed suicide.

The NFL still turns a blind eye when their star players assault women.

And don’t even get me started on how the NCAA exploits its college football players, sending them onto the field of inevitable injury while pocketing billions. Like the enslaved Roman gladiators, the NCAA football players aren’t paid and can’t hold a job, but work up to 60 hours a week – which brings to mind very ugly slavery analogies, given that many of the players are Black Americans.

These were just some of the many, many reasons to give up football.

But I didn’t. I watched the games, bought the jerseys, and even wore the pajamas of my favorite teams.

You know what made me give up football?

My dog.

*****

Beowoof – Woofie for short — was a rescue dog. Born in a Los Angeles Animal Shelter, he was adopted, abused, and returned. Someone had hit – or kicked – one of Woofie’s back legs when he was a juvenile.

The joint was slowly degenerating when we adopted him at six months of age, though Woofie didn’t often limp. We saw several specialists, and debated everything from amputation to pins that would hold his degenerating hock into a static, but stable, position.

In the end, we opted for pain meds and ice, holding surgical options in reserve. Woofie was a big dog, needing as many legs as possible to hold his weight. He also loved to stretch out his back legs.

And how would he stealthily sneak up onto the forbidden couch at 2 AM with just one back limb?

You’d never know our goofy, super social dog had been traumatized and injured. That dog sprinted out any open door in search of playmates. He lived for the dog park, and never seemed to mind how easily other dogs knocked him over. He always won tug-o-war against our other rescue dog, Fey. He tried to play with every dog, cat, or human he ever met.

The only thing Woofie hated was football.

He didn’t start out hating it. He happily hopped up on the futon next to me while I was glued to the TV at the end of college football season. He gobbled up loose chip bits and napped.

Until my team fumbled – two yards from endzone.

“No!” I howled. “Goddamn it, what the fuck is wrong with you?! No, no, no!” I pounded my fist into the back of the futon, right over Woofie’s head. Then I jumped off the futon, snarling and stomping in front of the TV for at least 10 minutes before realizing my dog was gone. During a commercial break, I looked for him in the kitchen, certain he’d gone counter surfing.

He wasn’t in the kitchen. Or the bedroom. Or the bathroom. Or the living room, dining room, or bedroom.

I found Woofie huddled next to the dryer. Shaking.

My happy-go-lucky, irrepressible hound was shivering in fear.

I felt awful. Had my couch-bashing had brought up bad memories? Had I given my dog a PTSD episode? Or did he just think he’d done something wrong, or that I might hit him instead of the couch?

I didn’t know exactly what had terrified him, but I had to make it stop.

I tried to coax him out with food. He didn’t move. I tried love and belly rubs. Nothing. Tennis balls and toys. Still nothing.

I turned off the TV.

Woofie stopped shaking. He gobbled up treats. We played ball. We had belly rubs. I told him I was sorry, and that he was a good boy, over and over. He seemed fine.

The next day, I settled in to watch the NFL games while my husband made snacks. Two minutes later, Andy appeared and said, “Why is Woofie shaking next to the dryer?”

I turned off the TV. Woofie returned to normal and left the laundry room. But from that day on, every time he heard the sound of a football crowd and referee whistles, our dog went to the laundry room and shivered. Regular TV shows didn’t bother him. Volleyball didn’t bother him. The Olympics didn’t bother him. Only football sent him running.

Over the next few months, a combination of food, an extra calm human, and the mute button helped Woofie conquer his fear of football games .

I, on the other hand, never got over my dog-traumatizing trauma. I was ashamed that I’d lost my temper so badly that I’d mortally terrified my formerly unflappable dog.

I was ashamed that I’d let football have so much power that it could infuriate me to the point where my afternoons — my dog’s afternoons — would be ruined.

I began to see how much of my life had revolved around football. Not only did it wreck my mood and my bank account, but I’d started scheduling the gym, dinners with friends, and vacations around the games.

How was life taking a backseat to a game? And a morally bankrupt game, at that?

“Oh my God,” I moaned to Andy. “I’m in danger of becoming JM’s father.”

“The guy who wouldn’t come to our wedding because it was during football season and he had to be at the game?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t think you’re that bad,” said Andy. “I was thinking you’re more like Dave the Auburn fan.”

“The one who threw his TV out the window when Auburn lost?” I asked incredulously. “That’s worse!”

So I gave up football.

It felt odd at first. I missed the excitement of watching the games and reading up on the latest news. People would comment on my old team sweatshirts and launch into “Did you see that catch?” commentary, expecting a whole conversation about “our” team.

But then it felt like freedom. My weekends opened up. I spent more time in the garden or at the dog park. I didn’t have to stress over my teams’ losses or rushing home to watch my teams.

Best of all, I no longer had to tie myself into knots, justifying my addiction to a game that the actual players will never win. I didn’t have to explain how I could support an industry that supports racism, misogyny, greed, and cruelty.

It kinda felt like giving up the Republican Party.

And you know what else happened?

My fur baby was fearless once more.

In sad news, at a recent high school reunion, my older sister learned that two of her former, football-playing classmates have CTE.

One of them isn’t expected to live much longer.  

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

22 thoughts on “Football vs. Furry Friend (#211)”

  1. This is so sad. I just recovered from your dog’s trauma when you tell me people you know (or your sister does) are dying. When anything get’s to be big business, it’s the end. Our state has a college team with a huge controversy over whether the former coach knew one of his friends was abusing kids. Of course he did. Lots of people knew. For decades. No one did anything for fear of repercussions to the team. Argh! When did sports become more important than our kids. Poor woofie. Wonder if it brought back old painful memories of abuse.

    1. Was that team Penn State & the coach Paterno? Yeah, everyone knew and everyone enabled. So horrifying. Yet so many of the diehard football fans — like my friend JM’s dad — absolutely refused to believe that the sainted Paterno knew about Sandusky.

      Talk about a problematic fave!

      My sister’s classmates aren’t that old. She had no idea how badly off one of them was. He was our star quarterback, from a football dynasty family (only came to our public school in order to play football).

      I think it’s the helmets that do the most damage. Rugby players seem to do okay.

      I know, I still feel like a monster every time I think of Woofie huddling by the dryer. He got over it faster than I ever will. Not that it lets me off the hook.

  2. I agree with you about there being something rotten in football. Lots of things, in fact. The loyalty of fans has always seemed a strange thing to me when the players come from all over and will leave as soon as they get a better offer.

    My alma mater, Seattle U, doesn’t have a football team. It had a great basketball team, though, when I was there.

    I sometimes watch the Super Bowl, or at least part of it. And I can understand the desire to see your favorite team win and the fun of watching a good play. But the games are awfully long, and there are so many minutes of boredom in between the good plays. Once a year is enough for me.

    One of the good things that seems to be happening as a result of publicity about the long-term effect of head injuries is that some parents are turning against football for their kids.

    1. You are absolutely right about parents turning against football. 2 of the high schools in my city barely have enough football players to field teams this year. I expect the number of players to continue dropping — in the more affluent neighborhoods. But in the less affluent, less white, less Asian-American neighborhoods? Not so much. Which means that eventually, football players will be from marginalized communities. The poor, the black, and the brown will take the physical punishment so white audiences can enjoy football and fantasy teams risk free.

      Rotten, indeed.

  3. That’s very sad about your sister’s friend. I’m sorry. But I’m glad Woofie has recovered.

    I totally hear you on the giving up football thing. I was forced to give up my Ravens addiction when I moved to South Africa, where it’s basically impossible to watch football. While I really missed watching my team win the Super Bowl in 2013, it is also very liberating not having to stress out every Sunday afternoon between August and December. Nowadays I go to an occasional game when I happen to be home during the season, and enjoy it immensely regardless of who wins.

  4. It sounds like you and football have had quite a relationship. Sorry to hear about your sister’s friends. It is horrible to be in that position – doing something you loved so much in the past (or maybe not loved so much but pushed into doing do and doing it for status) and today you have to pay for it, literally with your life 🙁

    Here in Australia we are big on sport. In the state of Victoria where I live, Australian Football Rules (AFL) is a major sport. It involves two teams kicking and handballing and oval shaped ball, and everyone crashes into each other. For a few years I followed the game, and like you, I would revolve my weekends around the game. I didn’t miss it when I stopped following it completely. Maybe if I played the game it would be a different story.

  5. Poor Woofie! I wonder what kind of PTSD it brought back… what kind of history he has.

    And I’m very proud you, giving up football. If I asked my husband to do the same he would whimper. He’s cut back on football tremendously since getting married, but still, I know it’s hard for him to wean off the game.

    Do you watch the super bowl, then? or not really?

    1. Well, Woofie is not overly fond of the vacuum, and the story we got from the woman who rescued him from the shelter was that the mom thought he was messy and he wound up tied up in the yard. 🙁 I suspect he was just a giant, untrained puppy who stole socks, dug holes, and gotten beaten rather than trained. But luckily, dogs live in the moment and that was long forgotten in the joys of cushy beds, lots of walks, lots of treats, and a playmate to wrestle.

      I did watch the Super Bowl — my friend invited us over and Andy made amazing food. It’s pretty much the only game I watch, and some of it is just of the commercials. And yes, I was rooting for the underdog Eagles, so their win was nice. But overtime there’s a hard hit, I cringe.

      Your brain on football? NOT WORTH IT.

  6. I have never watched American football, haha (there is a band called American Football that I like though, but that’s totally unrelated xD). I’ve never been a fan of watching sports, if anything I watch the “uncommon” sports in the Olympics (which is basically anything other than soccer, basketball and tennis, the star sports in Spain). The fever for football in the US seems very similar to the soccer fever in Spain, but at least in soccer players are not risking brain injuries. I hate when the players are interviewed in the news though, they are mostly uneducated and almost unable to string two sentences together… and all the kids in Spain want to be like them!

    1. It’s funny, soccer players in the U.S. tend to come from the well-educated suburbs, maybe because soccer showed up after basketball and football and baseball. And it caught on with girls first. So our soccer players seem pretty normal. However, the headers in the game are creating similar injuries to football, especially with young female players 🙁 I’d like to see them take the header out of the game, but traditionalists would scream bloody murder.

  7. Woofie is so cute with his cat toy. ADORABLE. I hope the ice and pain meds continue to work for Woofie for a long time, he’s so young! Is it his hip or his knee? I’m going through the same things with my dog but it’s her hip that’s bothering her and she’s only 1.

    I didn’t know that about NCAA basketball! I don’t watch football for the same reasons you listed but it never crossed my mind that college basketball could be just as unethical. I used to watch it but don’t anymore, guess now I won’t either.

    1. I think the hock equates to the ankle. And pain meds work, unless he overdoes it, and then he limps of won’t even walk the next day.

      Yeah, basketball isn’t great, either, but at least it doesn’t have the potential to destroy your brain.

  8. It’s funny football seems like everything in the States and then you leave to discover – NOBODY WATCHES OR KNOWS WHAT AMERICAN FOOTBALL IS.

    Sure, there are diehard fans that get together at the local pub and watch big games, but even Americans oveseas get into soccer (or football as it is known around the rest of the world) because that’s what everyone is crazy about.

    So I started to desconstruct why this is. I started to think about how expensive Am football is, all the equipment the players wear, the crazy field goal post, etc. But with football, it’s just a ball, poor countries and rich countries can play it – it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen shoes used as the ‘goal’.

    But what’s also interesting is the demise of Am football. It’s been tanking in popularity and probably for all the reasons why you mentioned. It does make me feel American though. Grew up on that stuff on TV, wrote about it, and so on, but dating a guy from the South who didn’t care for football (WHAAAAT?) is what helped wean me off of it. So by the time, expat life took off, I was just fine. I suppose I was never that addicted to begin with. It doesn’t fit my personality, but it’s fun to be part of a clan, so to speak.

    Give Woofie a big hug from me! xxoo

    1. You’re right about the expense, but American football is also ridiculously complex — so many different formations and plays to run. I took an Australian to a game once and realized how ridiculous it all was when I tried to explain special teams and punting. Meanwhile, there’s now an amazing high school soccer team in MAINE of all places — because of the Somali refugees that settled there. Those kids created their own ball out of a shirt and plastic bags and played all the time in the refugee camps. Soccer is so much more accessible. Though they should get rid of the headers — lots of concussions there, too.

      1. Hahaha, that is very true. I forgot about that. I feel like I’ve asked and answered many a football question in my lifetime!

        Actually when were back in Hawaii, we saw a TON of kids soccer teams. It certainly was not that big when I was growing up!

        My brother likes it, so I don’t know what headers are. 😛 I can guess. Soccer looks as compelling as golf for me…

Leave a Reply to Autumn Ashbough Cancel reply