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When You Love — and Loathe — Watching the N.F.L.


The W.N.B.A. postseason begins soon, and baseball’s is not far off.

But professional football is different. Despite its ugly faults — rampant brain injuries and a glaring racial divide between Black players and white team owners at the forefront — the N.F.L. is America’s most-watched sports obsession. Its reappearance is a milestone. But has the N.F.L. signaled, as no other league can, that we are returning to the world we once knew?

Therein lurks the tension.

The health risk to players during the coronavirus pandemic is obvious and significant. Football is hand-to-hand combat, waged by men who are often at particular risk because of their girth, coached by men who are often at particular risk because of their age.

“This isn’t baseball, or not even basketball,” Pete Carroll, the 68-year-old coach of the Seattle Seahawks, said to me when we spoke the other day. Carroll is a big believer in the steps that teams took during training camp to control the virus. But he is also aware of the risks. “We got guys in freakin’ huddles and lines of scrimmage, and, you know, we’re just all over each other.”

There’s another danger, too.

Is the return of our most popular sport sending a false alert that we have almost conquered the virus?

Consider this terrible number: 193,700. That, at the very least, is how many Americans it has killed so far.

Consider, as well, that many of us have lost our shock at that number.

Think of it this way: It is nearly four times the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War.

It is almost three times the number of fans in attendance at Soldier Field in Chicago when it is full for football games.

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