I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, otherwise known as, “Steelers Country.”
I love the blue-collar-chat-across-the-backyard-fence-we’ll-give-you-the-shirts-off-our-backs hometown culture of “The Burgh.” It’s in my blood. It’s who I am.
Growing up in Pittsburgh and loving sports goes hand in hand. (Is it even possible to do one of these without the other? I’m not sure.) In fact, I can’t recall a Sunday afternoon in my childhood home that did not include some sports game blaring in the background on the television. I cherish memories of my Dad yelling at the screen, as though Chuck Knoll’s earpiece was directly rigged to our living room and he was relying on my Dad’s suggestions/critique to succeed in his NFL coaching career.
When I grew up and moved away from my hometown, a little bit of “Steelers Country” and a lot of my wonderful childhood traditions/memories went with me.
Over the past decade or so, however, a change began to take place in my heart with regard to this sport that was so closely intertwined to my youth and young adult life. First of all, I always found it curious that my mother had permitted my five brothers to participate in any sport they chose when they were young, except football. It was forbidden. Not included on the list of options, as in: Don’t even mention it because the answer will be, “No!”
We watched it. One of my brothers coached it for more than 35 years. I’m pretty sure all the males in my family knew the stats of just about every player on every team in the entire league, since its inception, but none of them played. Our family contributed many baseball and basketball stars to the community, but absolutely no football players.
I have four sons. One of them played football. We laughed, at the time, because I was so nervous about telling my mother that her grandson was going to participate in “that sport.”
There’s nothing quite so exciting as a night under the big lights, stands full of fans, shouting, cheering, tailgating and supporting their teams—win or lose.
Fast forward to about a week ago when my 14-year-old son and I watched the recently made Will Smith movie, “Concussion.” Add to that, the fact that over the past few years, many NFL players more often find themselves in the news for the crimes they commit on their off days rather than their accomplishments on the field. In addition to the players’ immoral behaviors, the cheerleaders look more as though they are posing for illicit magazines than preparing for any sort of athletic endeavors. Most recently, a raging, contentious debate has arisen, started by one player’s refusal to stand during the National Anthem.
Despite my closely knitted ties to the sport because of my Italian/Pittsburgh heritage, I’ve been left wondering why anyone would continue to watch, play, coach or give money to any football program at all. The character Smith played in the movie, based on the true story and tragic deaths of several NFL players (including a superstar from my youth, Mike Webster) is a Nigerian neurosurgeon whose conclusions led him to determine that football is dangerous to human health. In fact, he (and others with whom he shared his findings) believed that the only way the sport should remain legal would be to attach a warning label to it, similar to what the Attorney General does on bottles of beer, cigarettes, etc…The life threats and other mafia-esque problems that poor doctor faced (if those parts of the movie are true) begs the question as to whether there might be a whole lot more going on in the world of football than good old fashioned athletic fun.
And, so I ask: At what price? How does a tradition become so ingrained in a culture that people are willing to watch the participants go insane, suffer traumatic brain trauma and die just so it can continue? How many women will allow themselves to be objectified under the guise of entertainment and career choice? And, how many people will be permitted to insult our nation’s heroes, many of whom have fought for players’ freedoms to be part of a league that often pays them millions of dollars to play a game while they themselves can barely make ends meet for their families?
I have come to the conclusion that my childhood memories of football and the reality of football are two very different things. While I cherish the former, I can no longer, in good conscience, support the latter.
Judy Dudich resides in the beautiful woods of Pennsylvania, where 24 acres of land and a home-office provide the perfect setting for her children’s home-education and her own homesteading and business ventures. Life is full of blessings (and challenges!) for Judy, as a wife, mother of 10 and Grammy to six. She is a published author, whose book, “I Surrender/A Study Guide for Women” continues to encourage and support others in Christian family lifestyles throughout the world. Judy has also previously worked in the online speaking circuit. Her passion for permaculture, re-purposing, foraging and organic gardening fills her days with learning and adventure that she loves to share.