I love NFL football, but I'm boycotting this year. 22 things I'll be doing instead.

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.

Activists support NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick outside the offices of the National Football League. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

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.

September

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.

Torrey Smith shares breakfast with students as part of a FUTP 60 initiative. Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Got Milk?

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!

October

Week 5: You may know the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner," but do you know the story behind it?

Particularly its oft-forgotten additional verses. Or why we play it before sporting events? Take some time this week to brush up on this interesting piece of American history.

A U.S. flag with 15 stripes and 15 stars, like the one that was flown Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, frames the Battle Monument in Baltimore. The anthem's lyrics come from "Defence of Fort M'Henry," a poem written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key after he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships in the war. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

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.

Photo by David Goehring/Flickr.

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.

November

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.

The Blue Angels perform before Super Bowl 50. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

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.

Photo by Albert Sun/Flickr.

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.

December

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.)

Photo by Andrew Hitchcock/Flickr.

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.

January

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.

People deliver their voter registration forms. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

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."

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

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.

February

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.

Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.

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.

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Today, I'm a 35-year-old man with a flame shaved into my beard. If the '80s movies I love so much are any indication, this is a sure sign I'm going through some kind of existential crisis. Next week, when the semester starts and I begin teaching again, it will not be strange if my colleagues start to worry about me just a little. A sports car or a neck-jerking pivot to physical fitness — that's an understandable response to the realization that life is fleeting. But a large meticulous flame carved out of facial hair? What does one do with that?

At this moment, though, I'm showing my face proudly to a woman wearing a swimsuit with a taco cat on it. We have only recently met, but she's telling me that she's so into my "fade" that she wants to kiss it. Then she does, blowing a raspberry into my cheek so hard that her hat falls off. Neither of us can stop laughing.

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"Live Mas!" I shout back without any irony. There is no irony here in Palm Springs, where, for four days only, hundreds of people celebrate their love for Taco Bell.

Here, there's only swimming and hot sauce-themed leisure wear, and the warm pleasant feeling that comes from eating too much and knowing that you're with your own people. Even if the only thing that connects you is a love for a fast food giant that feeds you when you're hammered and shameless at 2 a.m.

We drank the Baja Blast! My Taco Bell fade and my friend's specialty manicure!Mark Shrayber

What does it mean to Live Mas? This is a question I am forced to ask myself over and over during my 24-hour stay at "The Bell," where I have stowed away as a friend's plus-one. We are, of course, both politely pretending that I'm a full-on guest with all the perks that entails, but we also both know that I wouldn't be here eating unlimited quesadillas poolside without her.

So maybe that's the first thing Live Mas means: To build strong lifelong connections which you can, with some luck, exploit to your benefit. :) :) :)

But this is too cynical an interpretation, because everyone here is so happy. Happy that they've gotten a reservation; happy that they can cool off in a room themed after an iconic Mountain Dew Drink, and happy that they can share their own personal story of what Taco Bell means to them. (Though there's no formal essay contest — I've checked.)

Me: This room won't be that cool. Also me: OH MY GOD, THIS IS THE COOLEST ROOM I'VE EVER BEEN IN!!!Mark Shrayber

Snatches of this story float around the "Fire" pool, where all the entertainment is concentrated: One couple canceled their trip to Prague because "Prague will always be there" — a brave stance considering climate change; another met last year on Tinder after the girlfriend's Taco Bell senior photos went viral; at the opening ceremony on Thursday, where sauce packets were cut instead of a ribbon, a city official brought others to tears with both her Taco Bell fashion and a memory of how her parents would feed an entire family with 19-cent-tacos from the first-ever Taco Bell in Downey, California.

Oh, I forgot one: The guy who skipped out on Prague? He got a giant bell shaved into the side of his head, so he might have to miss out on a black-tie event happening later this week. But it's all good. Bring on the nacho fries.

I make fast friends with four women who are here for a bachelorette party, the bride overwhelmed with good vibes and prosecco. This year, for her 30th, she rented a party bus. Inside? $100 worth of Taco Bell that her fiancee was worried might not be consumed.

"But little did he know," she shouts in the hot tub where we're "cooling off" after a long day of 108-degree sunning, "we ate it all!"

A bachelorette party and a birthday! We're really living it up (but also staying hydrated.)Mark Shrayber

Others whoop it up at the twist, but we all get it. Though there's no essay contest, I don't mind telling you that when my first boyfriend dumped me 14 years ago, I stuffed my face with chalupas. When I lost a job I really loved four years ago, I once ordered so much Taco Bell that the delivery app of my choice informed me I'd exceeded the maximum number of items they could comfortably fill in one order. We get it — though none of us can truly explain it.

There are, if you look at the The Bell from a literary perspective, many other writers who deserve this experience more than me. They could talk about the blue of the pool. Or the insouciance of youth. Draw parallels between marketing stunts such as this and the end-stage capitalism. Or envision a "Demolition Man" future where Taco Bell is fine dining and none of us know how to use the three shells in the bathroom to get ourselves clean.

And I wish these writers could be here to paint you these landscapes, but what you've got is me, a literal Taco Bell super-fan, and what I'm doing is eating and getting sunburned and taking a synchronized swimming class with the Aqualillies, who refer to themselves as "the world's most glamorous water ballet entertainment," but have very little idea of what to do with 10 eager recruits who can't stay afloat or on beat.


G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S!!Photo courtesy of Taco Bell.

"It's okay," one of the instructors comforts me just before the Tacolilies (the name of our "team") are invited to perform our watery version of "Senorita" — which was supposed to be two minutes long, then 1:15, and has now been judiciously cut down, due to talent, to about 45 seconds — in the bigger pool. "We regularly teach five-year-olds. And you're doing much better."

Usually, I would take offense at such blatant reads, but today I'm unbothered. I'll continue to be so right until I get home and discover that I've left all my electronics on United Flight 5223 (if anyone wants to get them back to me). And even then, I rage at myself for all of five seconds before checking that I've still got what's important: A certificate that says I did not drown while doing water ballet.

It's still there. As is my phone, which is blowing up with messages from people who took pictures of me in what Taco Bell calls its "power suit," and which is best described as "cult outfit, but kinda make it fashion." I bought my husband one, too, and I look forward to the argument we're going to have about holiday cards later.

This is "Live Mas."

I've never been so happy to match with someone else in my life. MaMark Shrayber

Or maybe it's the moment another stranger tells me that we'll be friends forever. Such friendships are forged quickly when you've got less than 24 hours to make lifelong connections and I'm pleased to get the full experience.

"We may never meet again," he says while we're swimming, "but we'll always have this time together."

Then we establish that he lives just across the park from me in San Francisco.

"Aw, man," he says, floating away to take pictures of the people he came with, "I've got lots of close friends I never see because they live across that damn park."

But the sentiment holds.

We Live Mas it on.

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