Is it immoral to watch football?

A big week for football. Earlier this season, I wrote about why I stopped caring about football. The post got a lot of positive and negative responses. One of my colleagues argued against my reasons, but he raised another interesting one:

The real reason not to watch football is that it is our generation’s boxing. too much damage to the participants.

The response got me thinking:

Is it immoral to watch football?

The question is predicated on emerging evidence that football is a lot more damaging than people commonly assume (which says a lot given how dangerous the sport appears to be). As an example of how vicious the game can be:

The question is also predicated on the idea that supporting football, even by passively watching it, facilitates the harm being caused.

I was curious what the members of the Moral Research Lab would say, so I asked them if it is immoral to watch football:

First response:

No. Players know the risks, and if we didn’t watch they would be unemployed. It is immoral for the NFL to not cover their healthcare after retirement…

Second response:

It’s morally acceptable to watch football.

All players are voluntary participants.  They have the right to choose what they want to do with their lives.  Coercion doesn’t seem relevant because all NFL players have chosen to play the game for a long time before money ever entered the equation.

All sports involve risk on injury.  So, the question really is whether risk is mitigated as much as possible.

The NFL should make healthcare available to retired player.

The NFL and NCAA could and should do more to both investigate the types, prevalence, and consequences of the head trauma players tend to suffer, and attempt to limit these injuries by implementing changes to the rules and/or safety equipment.  Risks should be made public.

The leagues at all levels should continue to penalize teams during games AND suspend players after games for all instances of dangerous play, including but not limited to when defenders’ helmets are the first thing to contact another player.  According to the way I was taught to tackle back in the day, this is not proper technique; we were told (time and time again) that leading with your head is the fastest way to injure yourself and others

If no football, then definitely no boxing or ultimate fighting.  What about NASCAR, cycling, skiing, or Olympic bobsled?  People die in those sports.  Where do you draw the line?

Third response:

I agree with the previous comments. One could argue that professional football couldn’t exist without an audience (and, therefore, eliminating the audience would eliminate the harm), but ultimately, the players choose to participate, and the viewers aren’t forcing them to endure pain and injury.

Fourth response:

No, not immoral.

I see cases like this as analogous to donating to charity and other supererogatory actions.  It is not morally obligatory to boycott football and other violent sports, and therefore not morally wrong not to.

But, by watching these sports we are indirectly contributing to/ sanctioning the violence they entail, and so it would be morally preferable not to watch them, just as it would be morally preferable to donate more money to charity, etc.  (It might be different if there wasn’t some causal connection between watching and the perpetuation of the sport, in that case it would be more like pure voyeurism, I guess.)

Not sure I buy the arguments that the players know what they’re getting into, etc.  Many of them probably don’t fully appreciate the risks by the time it is too late to turn back.

That said, I still like watching violent sports, boxing in particular….

Fifth response:

Not immoral: Football players opt-in. It would be immoral if we forced players into it gladiator-style.

One lone member said, “Yes”:

I think it is. I really love the game but over the past several years have found myself feeling sick over how the players are treated. I’ve started to feel about NFL football the way I do about horse racing.

I have more to say about this—especially to people who think these guys (the players) have many other options, they don’t. The NFL and elite college football programs are ranked with disproportionately poor minority kids who have sports as one of their only real avenues towards a better education and life—only they don’t get very much of an education when they’re playing football at these schools, we all know that—and physical injuries to the head are not helping. I don’t think it’s hard to find out where LSU football players end up after college if they don’t make it in the NFL.

What do you think?