The NFL doesn’t care about your concerns.
He’s not interested if you think the latest purge of black coaches is evidence that the league’s promise to end racism is a farce.
He doesn’t care if you think the league is overly attentive to social injustice or obsessed with ethical posturing.
It doesn’t care if you’re fed up with disabling injuries and your favorite players being affected by the inherent brutality of the game.
The NFL doesn’t care because it doesn’t have to. Weather every storm, from Hurricane Kaepernick to the deluge of pain, uncertainty, and death caused by COVID-19. It has an increasingly tight grip on America and its culture, preying on our fascination with violence, our need for intense drama, our desire to witness genius unfold under extreme pressure (search: Brady, Tom).
Far from backing down, this year the league added a Game 17 to its regular season, not caring at all about exposing players to more hits that could end in concussion. For the first time, fans watched an NFL postseason game on a Monday night.
In March 2021, the NFL signed an 11-year deal with its media partners valued at around $110 billion. Viewership on television and digital broadcasts saw a notable increase that year, jumping 10 percent and reaching its highest regular-season average in six years.
Is there a better indicator of professional football dominance than this? NFL games made up 48 of the 50 most-watched broadcasts in the 2021 regular season and 91 of the top 100. Due to a spike in COVID-19 cases and a ratings that is down to half what the NFL averages on a regular weekend, the Grammys will be moved to a date that doesn’t compete with the conference championships.
Why should the league care what we think, what we worry about, or even protest about, when it keeps pouring in more money and getting bulging ratings?
Forget about any of their problems. Forget Jon Gruden emails or reprehensible sexual harassment within the Washington Football Team and its owner’s involvement. Forget the unethical way professional football treats retired players (just one example: its recently amended laws to use race to dole out smaller disability payments to black players with brain damage). . Nothing changes.
The owners of the 32 teams in the league, overwhelmingly white and conservative men, are more than happy with the status quo, as long as we continue to watch the games.
Why can’t we stop watching the NFL?
Aside from the drama, the crushing crashes, and the wonderful spectacle that surrounds it, another reason is the game’s unmatched ability to bring people together. The country’s most popular sport remains all-powerful in the way it unites, even during the pandemic and at a time when the divisions in American life seem to grow with each passing day.
The most ardent supporters of rival politicians are found side by side in bars or in adjoining booths in the upper tiers of NFL stadiums. Even if they’re not watching the game together in person, broadcast television and digital media allow people with divergent views on everything else to share in celebrating a spectacular interception by the team they both love.
I admit my own complicity. I’m a critic of the NFL, not just because I’m a journalist who views power with a skeptical eye. I think the league has mishandled its response to the pandemic.
Seeing two of the three black coaches in the league, David Culley of Houston and Brian Flores (who is black and Latino) of Miami, lose their jobs last week after becoming scapegoats for organizational ineptitude makes me sick to my stomach. . The sense of unease is made worse when I think of Brandon Staley, another young white coach hailed as a genius despite minimal NFL experience. The Los Angeles Chargers were left out of the postseason due to their ineptitude.
The NFL doesn’t give a damn about diversifying its ranks. He doesn’t give a damn what any of us think about his pathetic hiring practices.
And yet, even when I’m not working, I watch the games and deal with internal conflicts all the time. I am by no means a passionate fan, but the sport that helped me connect with my father while watching the Seattle Seahawks of the ’80s and ’90s now helps me connect with my 11-year-old son.
My son will never play football because his parents (and he too) know the risks of brain damage. But the NFL absorbs his attention. He adores Patrick Mahomes, in part because they both have mixed-race heritage. He’s watching Pete Carroll’s every move. To him, Russell Wilson is always “Danger Russ!” and Aaron Rodgers is always “Rodgers Rate!”, a sign that State Farm’s insurance commercials starring Green Bay’s most notorious anti-vaccine activist are getting the job done.
Sometimes he asks to see big plays from the 1970s and 1980s. We usually show him YouTube videos of the 1985 Chicago Bears or the John Madden and Ken Stabler Raiders.
“Is he still alive?” my son often asks. “Are you okay now?”
I often have to give him bad news. “No, Kenny Stabler died very young. He had brain damage, just like Dave Duerson.”
“Jim McMahon, wow, he’s a shadow of his former self.”
Steve McMichael? Well, son, he has something called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. And also that player and this one too”.
We talked about ways the game could improve. Maybe it would help to have a new leadership in the NFL or better takedown techniques. Maybe better helmets or safer rules.
We look for answers before realizing that we don’t have good answers. So I tell you the truth: the league will never change in any significant way, not while it’s still so popular. And then my son and I, like so many others, proceed to sit down and watch more games.
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Opinion: Why can’t we stop watching the NFL?