You know I’m not a fan of American football or the NFL. But objectively speaking, the sport and the league have taken some serious damage this year.
I’d say more, but the NFL doesn’t deserve a flowery intro about its failure. I’m just gonna jump into all the Ls the league has taken.
130 million less people have watched NFL games this year than in 2016. What’s uniquely amazing about the NFL’s drop in popularity this year is that the league managed to anger both sides of the kneeling protest debate.
A big chunk of lost viewers consists of NFL fans opposing the NFL’s treatment of players who silently protest racial injustice in the United States. Another huge chunk of 2017’s lost viewers are NFL fans who think it’s a disgrace that the league would even entertain the idea of their ungrateful athlete-slaves “protesting the flag/nation/troops.” The third notable chunk are people fed up with NFL coverage being about anything else other than football.
The Patriots are favorites…again
I’ll give the NFL credit for the Rams, Vikings, and Jaguars succeeding this year. But the amount of time it takes for a plot twist like that to happen is far too long to really consider the league unpredictable. It seems like no matter who gets injured on a juggernaut such as the Steelers or Patriots, the health of one key player and the presence of that one coach pretty much guarantees a deep playoff run. Despite some “hiccups,” the Patriots have the best end-of-regular-season odds to win the Super Bowl in 2018.
As written in my article ‘Why American Football and the NFL are Weird‘, the NFL is the most predictable sports league on a game-by-game basis out of the 4 major American leagues. And while repeat championships happen more often in the NBA, the first-round bye adds a level of comfort to a win-or-go-home playoff format that makes you roll your eyes when you see the usual suspects snag one of those top-2 spots again.
It’s like watching the Cavs or the LeBron James-led Heat stumble through the middle of the season just to get hot at the right time again. But in the NFL, the faces of those crusades are elitist White dudes who hang with Donald Trump (i.e. Brady) and sexually assault women without getting reprimanded (i.e. Roethlisberger).
Players losing clout to NBA players
While it seems like everyone in the NFL not named Colin Kaepernick waffled on the issue of protesting racial injustice during the national anthem, the NBA Players’ Association (NBAPA) seems undivided in their belief that speaking up as athletes is the right thing to do. The contradictory nature of the NFL’s highly political non-politics seeps deeply into its players. Meanwhile, despite the longstanding league rule that requires players to stand for the anthem, NBA players have a freedom of personhood that makes them a. more entertaining personalities and b. way easier to relate to.
I get it, the NFL has characters too. Who doesn’t love Marshawn Lynch or Jalen Ramsey? All I’m saying is the average NBA player can do and say non-basketball things without being scrutinized nearly as much. It also helps that the league is smaller and the NBAPA’s leadership is more defined. With the likes of LeBron James and Chris Paul sitting at the head of the table, the supportive, buddy-buddy nature of the NBA puts the friendships, community work, and off-court business moves of our favorite players on display for everyone to watch with glee. Meanwhile, people damn near die playing in the No Fun League when they aren’t getting fined for celebrating or battering their girlfriends.
It’s not like NFL players were ever really cooler than NBA players since the two leagues went through their respective mergers (NFL-AFL and NBA-ABA). But the NBA allows its players to be themselves on the job, and they haven’t disappointed in the same way NFL players have.
Political non-politics backfiring big time
Prior to the eruption of racial justice protesting sparked by Colin Kaepernick’s kneel, the NFL was already a highly-politicized league. It’s the most conservative sports league on issues of recreational drug use (brilliantly portrayed by the HBO show Ballers), and the most jingoistic and pro-military (for now) American organization that isn’t the U.S. military.
The funny thing is the NFL’s “patriotism” is relatively new, manipulative, and entirely self-serving, a critique that Zack Beauchamp already served up on Vox, so I don’t have to repeat myself. The fact that foolhardy nationalists and racial justice advocates are at each other’s throats about the NFL when the league is actively toying with both sides of the debate is almost as upsetting as how pathetic the NFL’s stances are.
I’d tell the NFL to hold this L, but it already has one.
WOW, you’re hilarious, Zander. Just so fucking clever aren’t you.
Easy, easy. Didn’t know you were a fan! Here’s to NewFound Losses for the NFL in 2018!