By Dr. Victor S. Sierpina
Some years ago, I came across the concept of abstaining from the news for a week to help reduce my overall health and reduce my stress level. This included not reading the paper, watching news on TV, on the Internet or other media.
While it sounds challenging, “fasting” from news can be enormously relaxing. It also can leave us time for multiple other healthy pursuits during that time out from the usually bad news.
And as author Tom Robbins noted in his book “Another Roadside Attraction” back in the 1970s, “the international situation was desperate, as always.” Don’t worry about missing a week of news. When you come back, the situation will still be scary and critical. You’ve just given yourself a reprieve from it for a week!
But this is just the lead in to my main theme, which is abstinence from watching football on TV this year. Now this might seem downright unpatriotic, especially in Texas where football is akin to a religion.
Even before moving here from Colorado years ago, I learned this from reading James Michener’s historical novel, “Texas.” Friday night football, Saturday college football, and Sunday professional football (and now Monday night and Thursday night as well!) was deeply entwined in the psyche and soul of Texas.
Like hunting quail, deer or hogs, fishing on the Gulf, riding a horse, barbecue or quilting, football is a central part of the Texas tradition.
So I seriously know I am treading on sacred ground when I share what is a very personal choice for me this fall, an autumn resolution if you will: I will abstain from watching TV football, except for the Texas Longhorn games of course. That’s it. Pure, simple and probably unachievable.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against football. Though I was never skilled or big enough to play football, I rejoiced with the whole town when our 8-man football team and our son Geoff who was All-State offense and defense went to the Colorado state championship. Though we lost that final game, the pride it brought to the community, the bonding, the fun was immeasurable.
Back then, I also gloried in the John Elway era of the Denver Broncos and excitedly rode the roller coaster of their wins and losses. I still root for the Chicago Bears, although I haven’t lived there for over 25 years.
I also support the benefits of physical fitness and activities in young boys and men who might linger too long in front of a computer screen while gaining weight, and losing social skills. There are also the leadership opportunities and personal discipline engaging in sports brings.
Additionally, the new awareness of concussions, improved rules, padding, and such has made the game of football safer. The debate about how Johnny FF and unpaid college players like him can triple contributions to their school by tens of millions of dollars from a successful season while being slapped for a minor matter like taking money for an autograph poses an interesting ethical question.
How coaches make an order of magnitude more annually in salary than the university president, how kids abort their education to go professional, how head injuries, previously unrecognized, can cause premature dementia, how parents don’t want their kids to play football because of such safety concerns: these are all pressing and interesting questions, endlessly debated in the media.
At the end of the day, who wins the Super Bowl or the BCS title, or even, may I dare to say it, the state high school title, while a matter of immediate attention and enthusiasm are, as other human activities pronounced by the writer of Ecclesiastes, “meaningless” or “vanity.” Who will remember these achievements in a hundred years or even twenty?
I perhaps digress since my decision has little or nothing to do with these perennial issues. My personal decision to abstain from watching TV football this season, except for the Longhorns, is based on a simple calculus.
It is just too time consuming.
After spending countless hours since January watching ESPN and the Tennis Channel this year while following the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, ATP Tour and finally the U.S. Open, I felt I needed to draw a line. At least I play tennis and try to convince myself I can learn something helpful watch pros that are a gazillion times better than me perform acrobatic stunts and feats of endurance way beyond my dreams.
For football, though, I thought what else could I be doing with that time?
Maybe I could make a different choice. Instead of spending much of Saturday, Sunday and Monday night ignoring my family, sitting on the sofa eating and drinking like a sloth, while watching highly conditioned athletes do their thing I could be: working out at the gym, fixing things around the house, cooking a gourmet meal, reading great books or the latest medical journal, writing some poetry, working in the garden, practicing a foreign language, watching the birds and fish in my back yard, enjoying the flowers as they grow, cleaning the garage, spending quality time with kids, grandkids and talking with or snuggling with my beloved spouse ... the list goes on.
Which would benefit my health and my family’s life more, watching another game, spending countless hours hypnotized by the media during pre- and postgame reviews or doing something more personally beneficial?
For me, the answer was clear.
I don’t think this is for everyone but perhaps each of you has an area in your life where a different choice might open up a whole new world of possibilities. Reflect on this and consider a healthier option.
In the meantime for me, there is always the Tennis Channel when I need a media fix, and hook ‘em Horns! Let’s see how my autumn resolution holds up when the playoffs come up.
Dr. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch and Professor of Family Medicine.