I Fought the NFL and the NFL Won: On ‘Against Football,’ Illegal Streams, and San Francisco’s Fallen Camelot

By Ryan Henry Joe

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The rallying cry of the perennial loser: At least we’ve got talent!

Three years ago, with then-San Francisco 49ers kicker David Akers landing the ball everywhere but between the uprights, I’d scurry into my bedroom and hide under a blanket whenever he trotted onto the gridiron for a high-stakes field goal attempt.

An outburst of cheering — provided it was a home game — meant success.

In my more fragile moments, however, I’d mute the television and refresh Twitter for game updates. I don’t enjoy 49ers games so much as I survive them, and mediating particularly tense situations through a mobile app kept me more or less on an even keel.

I got used to following live feeds of the game because, for a while — living in New York City and watching TV via high-def antenna — it was difficult to see 49ers games at all. Only recently did the team start performing well enough to warrant nationally-broadcast games.

Still, I needed my fix. I never enjoyed watching football with a bunch of strangers, so I avoided sports bars. I soon discovered FirstRowSports, a site collecting low-res, illegal, live streams of NFL games — though I had to install a sketchy-looking driver to use its video player, a fee I gladly paid.

Eventually, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized the site’s domain, which now routes visitors to this ominous anti-piracy PSA. Since then, FirstRowSports has re-launched, presumably it is hosted in a country unlikely to be raided by the U.S. or its allies.

coverI justify my decision to circumvent NFL-approved broadcasts by saying it’s for moral reasons, similar to the issues Steve Almond articulates in Against Football.

I refuse to support a business that presents itself as a purveyor of wholesome, All-American family fun, but that is — even overlooking the concussion issue — greedy and cynical. The NFL cares about breast cancer only inasmuch as the disease will increase female viewers. Salute the troops? Sure, for a price.
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Pre-Season: Steve Almond’s ‘Against Football’

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For the NFL pre-season, Football Book Club will be reading Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto by Steve Almond.

Almond — a Raiders fan, journalist, and author of My Life in Heavy Metal, Candyfreak, and God Bless America — summarized his manifesto in a 2014 interview with Electric Literature, saying:

“The point of Against Football is not just that the game fosters a tolerance for greed and violence and misogyny and militarism. The real intention is to investigate why fans like me, who know all this, still become obsessed, why we give so much of our head and hearts to this corrupt game.”

For more on Against Football, check out these pieces from The New York Times, NPR, and The Millions.

Adam nominated this book for Football Book Club because: “I’m not sure there’s another book that would be as perfect a kickoff to this project as Against Football. Also, who doesn’t enjoy a good manifesto?”