How to Be a Football Fan in Packer- and Badger- Land

Everything that can be said about football and its meaning and significance has already been said, except maybe for this: I don’t like football.

Wisconsin Badgers 58, Miami (OH) Redhawks 0

Even that’s not an original sentiment. Some football anti-fan maintains an “I Hate Football” Facebook page, and stacks of articles highlight the damage the sport inflicts on our kids’ developing brains and the decimation it imparts on the minds and bodies of NFL alumni. The sport is sexist, and crude. It used to tempt husbands away from their wives, until women started watching, and now it tempts all of us away from Sunday chores and family time, from autumn corn mazes and apple orchards and productive time at work. If the hours sacrificed by the fans and the IQ points sacrificed by the players produced something tangible, maybe they would be resources well spent. But the season does not end with any legislation or cures for any diseases. The lessons taught to our young men about teamwork and hard work are important, but they are weakened when packaged with all the aggression and concussions.

My distaste for the sport has certainly not prevented me from watching a phenomenal amount of football, this season more than ever. Living in Wisconsin and ignoring the Packers is almost as foolish as living here and never purchasing a winter coat, so watching Aaron Rodgers and company barrel up and down the field is essentially required. A good friend invited me to a Badger game at Camp Randall. I took my son to the Homecoming game of the high school where I teach, and I’ve attended all of his flag football games. On the website for my fantasy team, all the columns of statistics are starting to make sense. When I was a pudgy kid, the television coming on after Thanksgiving dinner or Sunday brunch was my cue to retreat into the kitchen or into my Gameboy. Now I set aside time to watch the NFL draft each spring.

Memorial Old Abes 29, Hudson Raiders 17

I don’t like football. But I like everything that surrounds football. My state of 5.758 million people has built an identity around a sports team, the Green Bay Packers, and however artificial and meaningless the successes and failures of those 53 players and a dozen or so coaches are, they have given me a bond with millions of people. That’s insane, but it’s true--I can go anywhere in this state and meet anyone and feel like a little less of a stranger because we both have opinions on the effects of the loss of Jordy Nelson.

That Badger game, that was a bucket-list level experience. Wisconsin’s 58-0 victory helped, but when the students filed into the stadium in the middle of the first quarter, and the band filled the field at halftime, and the alumni stood up to sing and the rest of us stood up to dance in the second half, and the school inducted a handful of athletes into its hall of fame, and I had some memorable nachos, those moments were not about aggression and violence, those moments were about community and tradition and the breathtaking things we can do when we come together. I sat next to a friend who spent time at the University of Alabama and attended games there, and he made it sound like the experience there might be even more impressive, and in that moment I understood the entirety of college athletics.

At my school, the football team is not great, and has not been great since I started teaching there. Budgets are tight, instructional minutes are precious, and maybe we need to have a serious discussion about whether football and other sports are worth everything we invest in them. But the guys wear their jerseys on game days and standardized test scores and academic programs could never, never replace the pride they inspire. My neighbor in the English hallways coaches the Spirit Line/Cheerleading team, and she pointed out wins and losses have little to do with the success of a school sport. Helping a kid feel involved is a precious thing.

Packers 14, Vikings 6

My son loves playing football, and so far it’s easy for me to love it, too. He plays the flag version on an indoor soccer field, and while turf burns are brutal, the chances of more serious injuries are slim. The 6- and 7- year olds rotate positions, and for all the praise I offer my son for his math scores and reading abilities, his piano and artistic skills, his kindness and compassion, he is far more proud of his two completed passes in his second game as an EC Indoor Sports Center Viking.

I don’t like football. Watching others inflict pain brings me no joy, watching others sacrifice their bodies and their minds feels a little too Greek coliseum for me. But for someone who doesn’t like football, I sure am becoming quite the fan.

Eric RasmussenEssay, Wisconsin