I love NFL football. But we’re officially on a break.
For years, I’ve watched beloved college players jet off to the NFL, and I continued following their careers, cheering on their successes on teams across the country. Back when I settled down in Kansas City for five years, I became a Chiefs fan, spending many a Sunday with chili on the stove and a beer in my hand, watching my team lose to various others in the AFC West.
But as much as I love the game, the history, the tradition, and, frankly, the routine, I can’t do it anymore.
The NFL’s dangerous history of welcoming players facing accusations of sexual assault or domestic abuse; the effects of head hits and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE); the league’s short-sighted stance on therapeutic cannabis use; and now the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick after his silent demonstrations during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest racial inequality. Any of these reasons is enough to walk away, but for me, when examined together, it’s hard to ignore.
Like more than 176,000 others, I will be boycotting the 2017 NFL season.
Do I think my boycott will change the league, get Kaepernick a job, or improve the mental and physical health of the players? Nope. But the way I invest my time shows a statement about my priorities and values. This season in particular, my priorities and the NFL’s priorities are not in alignment. Not even close.
That may not be the case for you, and that’s A-OK. If it brings you joy, watch football. I’m not here to judge or shame. (Especially if you’re a Chiefs fan.)
But If you’re ready to make a clean break — or maybe just looking to take a few games off — here’s a week-by-week breakdown with suggestions on things to watch, do, eat, read, or learn with all of your newfound free time.
Week 1: If you’re not watching football, watch “football.”
The hardest part of any boycott is getting started. Ease the transition by streaming a TV show about football. “Friday Night Lights” is mandatory viewing, but I also recommend two compelling documentary TV series, “Friday Night Tykes” and “Last Chance U.”
Week 2: Use your Sundays to try out a new routine.
You know what’s tedious? Grocery shopping. You know what’s slightly better? Grocery shopping while everyone else is home watching football. Boycott perks!
Week 3: Get kids moving with Fuel Up to Play 60.
FUTP 60 is a partnership between the NFL and the National Dairy Council in collaboration with the USDA to encourage school-based physical activity and structured play along with balanced meals. You don’t have to be an NFL player to help out. See what schools are participating in your zip code, and consider donating sports equipment or supplies or volunteering your time.
Week 4: Fantasy football is awesome, but have you tried fantasy Congress?
Yeah, it exists. And the stakes have never been higher. I’ve got Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) in the first round!
Week 5: You may know the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but do you know the story behind it?
Week 6: The NFL hasn’t cornered the market on cancer awareness. Do your part.
At the suggestion of NFL defensive lineman Devon Still, whose daughter fought stage 4 neuroblastoma, the NFL will move away from its traditional October “pink out” for breast cancer to instead raise money and awareness for multiple types of cancer. It’s debatable how much money they’ll actually raise, but you can follow their lead and volunteer or donate to a research or cancer patient support effort in your community.
Week 7: We’re halfway through October. Get yourself to a pumpkin patch ASAP!
In the words of the greatest writer of our time, “It’s decorative gourd season, motherfuckers.” Get yourself some gourds, a pumpkin, and maybe even some apples. Yeah, you should definitely get some apples.
Week 8: You know which team remains undefeated? Team Books.
Looking for a book that celebrates athleticism and the competitive spirit? Check out “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown.
Week 9: Is now a good time to talk about the angry elephant in the room afraid of sharing his emotions or appearing vulnerable?
Why am I sharing this link to a primer on toxic masculinity in a story about the NFL? No reason. Just thought you might enjoy it. Moving on.
Week 10: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Stop guessing — it was a plane.
Ever wonder why the Blue Angels and other coordinated military plane flyovers are “a thing” at football games? I don’t want to give it away, but the answer rhymes with schmilitary schmercruitment. But if you’re curious, learn how they hit their marks right on cue.
Week 11: You know what’s just as entertaining as an NFL game? Local art. Come on, gang, I’m serious.
In many cases, there are free or low-cost options too, particularly at schools. Bonus points if you attend a show on a Sunday afternoon. If you think it would be tough to compete with the drama and passion of an NFL game, clearly you haven’t seen a community theater production of “Phantom of the Opera.”
Week 12: You know what’s better than Thanksgiving football? Thanksgiving foods made with love/extra butter.
Strengthen your defenses against Thanksgiving football by busying yourself in the kitchen with a new recipe. Learning how to make a dynamite sweet potato pie is its own reward. No touchdown dance required.
Week 13: Brush up on your NFL history, which in a lot of ways is TV history.
In fact, there’s one moment in particular people still talk about nearly 50 years later. Nov. 17, 1968, is down in history as “The Heidi Bowl,” and it may be one of the biggest TV programming blunders of all time. The short version: Don’t start a TV movie when there are 65 seconds left in a football game.
Week 14: Get outside and play. Your insides will thank you, and your couch needs a break.
The fresh air will do wonders for your body and mind, especially when it’s below 60 degrees outside. (And since it’s December, odds are, it is.)
Week 15: If the best part of the game for you is knocking back cold ones, have you tried brewing your own beer yet?
Admit it, you’ve thought about it once or twice. How hard can it be, right? Well, actually, it’s kind of tricky. But it’s nothing you can’t handle.
Week 16: When guests gather for the holidays, try board games instead of the big game.
Miss the competition and high drama of the gridiron? Look no further than a fast-paced game of Uno. Or for the real players among us: Taboo. Game nights are all the fun and grit of football but with slightly fewer concussions.
Week 17: You made it to the last week of the regular season. Celebrate by learning the dance to Beyoncé’s “Love on Top.”
You’ll be the hit of the New Year’s Eve party or, at the very least, your family room.
Wild card round: Midterm elections are exactly 10 months away. Are you ready?
It’s playoff time, and things are getting serious. You know what else is serious? Democracy, y’all. Make sure your voter registration is current, and start familiarizing yourself with your legislators and those running against them. Where do they stand on the issues important to you? Unlike football, democracy is not a spectator sport, so get in there and get involved.
Divisional round: For all the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave for us, give him the whole weekend.
After all, his day is a “day on,” not a day off. Look around your community for volunteer opportunities and community events to celebrate King’s life and work.
Conference championships: The Winter Olympics start in less than three weeks. Are you ready?
As the old song goes, “Ain’t no party like a Winter Olympics party, cuz a Winter Olympics party has guns on skis.”
Pro Bowl: The best NFL players not playing in the Super Bowl will be in Orlando for the game. But do you know what’s better? Pretty much anything.
The NFL keeps trying to make the Pro Bowl “a thing,” but it’s usually a lackluster game. Skip it and go see “Proud Mary” with Taraji P. Henson. The players would probably rather be there too.
The Super Bowl: It’s a major event for any city, but consider who it leaves out.
The Super Bowl will be in Minneapolis this year, where the average high temperature in February is 23.7 degrees. While the game will be indoors, people experiencing homelessness in the Twin Cities will likely be displaced to make way for events and festivities for the big game. (Yeah, its happened before.) It’s always a good time to support shelters and service organizations helping people in need.
Football has been a part of my routine for so long, I don’t know if I’ll be able to hold out all season.
But I’m going to try.
Football is so many things to this country — it’s tradition, it’s family, it’s community-building, it’s an economic engine. Quitting the game cold turkey will be really difficult. But as the months from February to July remind us, there’s life outside of football season, and it’s pretty great too.