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.

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."