I think it is possible that the Detroit Lions, my team since I was a child, will not win a Super Bowl before the end of the National Football League as we know it. This is what I think about as I’m playing Madden NFL 19 on my PC.
This is the first time in more than a decade that EA Sports has released one of its Madden football games for Windows, and that return is something I imagined I would want to celebrate. But the NFL is tainted in my mind, so the game just ends up creating a queasy lump in my gut.
Here’s the good news: It seems like it runs fine on PC. While streaming, I was getting a lot of dips in the framerate, but those cleared up when I played without the added drag of transcoding video. The game tends to run at 60 frames per second on Ultra settings at 4K. The Xbox One controller also works really well, and I was glad to see that one person could play with a controller while a local opponent could use the mouse and keyboard if they wanted to.
The bad news is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). It is also owners and coaches colluding to exclude former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick from the league for kneeling during the National Anthem in solidarity with the victims of brutal police violence. It’s the new rule to prevent any other “uppity” player from taking a knee next season.
You can try to compartmentalize all of that. A solid crew at Tiburon puts this game together every year. I talked to them at E3, and they are just trying to make a good game. But it is about the NFL and, in part, by the NFL, and that makes it hard to escape or ignore.
For example, one of the first things you’ll see when you start a new game of Madden NFL 19 is an option to share your data with the NFL. I’m typically OK with handing my data over to companies. I understand that I’m often getting a lot of free services because Google is monetizing user data by the zetabyte.
But boy, the idea of handing my data over to the NFL makes my skin crawl. This league wants to stifle players from exercising their right to make a political statement, and then it has the nerve to collect my personal behavior for the purposes of making more money?
EA and the NFL are also both desperate to make people forget about Kaepernick, so it’s weird that the game includes the song “Big Bank” by YG on its soundtrack because its lyrics explicitly mention Kaepernick by name in a verse by Sean Don. Well, they do if you listen to the song on Spotify or the radio — the Madden version bleeps Kaepernick’s name. That was done without YG’s or Sean Don’s permission, according to TMZ.
It’s disappointing and appalling @NFL & @EA took @Kaepernick7’s name out of my verse on Big Bank for Madden 19, like it was a curse word. When he's not a curse, he's a gift! Nobody from my team approved any of this.
— Sean Don (@BigSean) August 2, 2018
EA has released a statement about bleeping the song from a company spokesperson:
“We made an unfortunate mistake with our Madden NFL soundtrack. Members of our team misunderstood the fact that while we don’t have rights to include Colin Kaepernick in the game, this doesn’t affect soundtracks. We messed up, and the edit should never have happened. We will make it right, with an update to Madden NFL 19 on August 6 that will include the reference again. We meant no disrespect, and we apologize to Colin, to YG and Big Sean, to the NFL, to all of their fans and our players for this mistake.”
Even beyond the stomach-turning contempt that the NFL has for its own players, football-as-entertainment is something I’m having a more difficult time digesting. I’ve lived with a fear of head injuries for years now. I think it started when I read that almost half of homeless men have experienced traumatic brain injuries at some point in their lives. If the only thing standing between functioning in society and falling between the cracks is one blow to the skull, why are we not wearing helmets all the time.
But then football has proven to us that helmets don’t help all that much — at least not if you are deliberately ramming your body with all of your might into another human 30-to-50 times once every week for about 18 weeks of the year. So it wasn’t great when the first exhibition game I played in Madden had four injuries in the first five or six plays of the game.
Oh, but don’t worry. None of those injuries were concussions. Electronic Arts removed concussions from Madden two years ago. I’ve reached out to confirm this, but fans widely speculate that EA censored that fact of the game at the request of the NFL.
Finally, I tried the Longshot story campaign, which is the continuation of the Longshot narrative from Madden NFL 18. It follows a handful of characters trying to make it in the NFL and … as a country singer? I don’t know. It seems cheesy, but I think it is that good, stinky cheese that you wind up loving.
Even this mode has its problems. I didn’t play the original Longshot, and I touched only the first half hour of this one. I’m not making any final proclamations. Instead, I’m saying that this bothered me.
Why the hell would EA make the main character of Longshot a dumb black quarterback? I remember in middle school when one of the other players on my all-white suburban football team told me and a bunch of others sitting around a table that “blacks can’t play QB because it requires too much thinking.” That reprehensible stereotype is that ingrained in football. “Black men are athletes. They can carry the ball or catch it, but they don’t have the mental faculty to lead a team as quarterback. Warren Moon can play in Canada, but he’ll never work in the NFL.”
So it was disheartening and disappointing that the second episode of the Longshot story opens up with fourth-string Cowboys quarterback Devin Wade struggling to learn the plays. He has an arm, but he just can’t learn the mental part of the game.
I hope and even expect that the character will grow to prove people wrong, but I hate this stereotype.
I’m glad that Madden is on PC, I think? But it is happening at a weird time. I’m changing. Characteristics of football that I could once tolerate (or even enjoyed), like bone-crunching hits, I now find unsettling. And it doesn’t help that the NFL seems to be reacting to me and others changing by doubling down on its controlling, paranoid nature. That is turning me away even faster.
So yeah — Madden is on PC, and it’s here just in time for me to break things off. If the Lions make the playoffs, I’m sure I’ll backslide and turn into the hypocrite that I truly am, but that’s not going to make me love spending time with football today.