Seattle is a hard place to live if you aren’t a sports fan. In Southern California, where I grew up, actively disliking organized sports was a conscious, rebellious choice: I was a punk, obsessed with music and politics and veganism and all that intense morality that comes with being 17 and thinking you know what it means to believe in anything. Hating sports, especially football, made sense. No punk I knew touched a pigskin. We resented teenagers who gained extra privileges, excusal from consequences, or high-school-wide recognition because they could throw balls at one another or run fast. I went to one football game my freshman year, where my friends held a sign from the bleachers that said “JOCKS SUCK.” I doubt anyone noticed.
It was equally easy to avoid organized sports in college. I attended a small liberal-arts school in Portland, Oregon, that reveled in its lack of organized sports. No NCAA, nothing intramural; the only sports teams sanctioned during my three-year stay were ultimate Frisbee and girls’ rugby. I never attended a game of either, even though my freshman dorm room overlooked the school’s athletic fields. I did, however, drive my car onto that field one particularly rainy night to make donuts.
Professional sports were mostly absent in Portland 10 years ago when I lived there. The Timber Army had not yet formed and the Trailblazers were unaffectionately known as the Jailblazers. Football was far away. No one asked me to watch sports at their place on a Sunday; I was never once invited to an actual professional sporting event. Sports did not exist for me, and no one else seemed to care.
This became a problem for me when I moved to Seattle. I had always thought of Seattle as a progressive place that shared my admittedly liberal values, so it was a surprise to realize that people here care about sports, football most of all. A friend of mine said that talking about sports in Seattle is like talking about the weather: everyone does it, and it’s the easiest way to have a conversation with a stranger. She was right; not knowing who won the game on Sunday felt like the lack of an important social skill.
So for a while I tolerated sports for the sake of my adult social life. I went to a handful of Mariners games each year and one Storm game, one Thunderbirds game, and a Sounders match. On Sundays, I asked my then-boyfriend (now-husband), who partakes in fantasy football and plays a weekly flag football game, about how the game is played. I hosted a Superbowl party at my apartment. I learned a little about a lot of sports, and I could fake my way through conversations with my co-workers.
If I needed to ask questions about what a “down” is or who plays in what division, I had easy excuses for my naivete. I did not play sports as a kid (aside from a brief, parentally mandated soccer stint when I was 6), and my dad never had people over to “watch the game” (though he was a college athlete himself). It wasn’t that I disliked sports; I just had so much to learn, and this meant I was allowed to be ignorant.
This worked well for me until I actually had to think about it. Right now, the Seahawks are kind of a big deal for the first time in the six years I’ve lived here, and reminders of football are everywhere. Seahawks decals cling to the windows of every other car I see. I can’t get a table for brunch at my local cafe on Sunday morning until after the game starts. And last week, my checker at Trader Joe’s was wearing a Seahawks jersey instead of a Hawaiian shirt. Football is impossible to ignore.
About a month ago, a few friends were at my house watching a Seahawks game with my husband. I was puttering about—maybe baking something in the kitchen or doing some work on my computer—but willfully not watching the game. They noticed.
“Hey, Paige,” said one of my friends. “Do you even like football?”
I took a deep breath. Then I sighed. “No,” I said. “I really, truly don’t.”
“Huh,” he said, genuinely surprised. “Why?”
And then I had to think about it.
I don’t like football now for the exact same reasons I didn’t like it when I was 17. It had been far too easy for far too many years to tell myself that I had been an angry kid with angry reasons for hating sports. But now, at 30, I think I was on to something back then. At the time, I had only anecdotal evidence to form my views. I remember that several members of my high school’s varsity team were caught drunk at a school event, and even though my school district had a no-tolerance policy (you’re caught with drugs or alcohol and you get expelled), they were each suspended for only one day because some big game was two weeks later.
Things aren’t much different in sports nowadays, but I have a decade more of life experience and news stories and Frontline documentaries in my corner. Professional athletes still get extra privileges, excusal from consequences, or country-wide recognition because they can throw balls at one another or run fast. Except now, they’re getting power and respect (and money) while being violent on TV. And that power and privilege means that sometimes professional (and even college and high school) players get away with terrible crimes like rape, because our culture thinks that sports are really, really, really important.
“I just can’t think of any reason to be OK with it,” I told my friend. “No matter how hard I think, it just all seems so . . . so . . . Well, it just feels wrong.”
It is hard to be the person who says that. It is hard to listen while my fellow Seattleites and progressive friends talk about their admiration for athletes while gathering at a bar on Sunday morning to watch the game. It is hard to tell people, “You know, I really don’t watch football,” and then have them ask why. And when I say something like, “I think football might be bad for society,” people laugh. They think I must be joking.
Read the rest of Seattle Weekly’s collection of stories and essays inspired by this year’s Seahawks team here.