I’ve been a rabid fan of the National Football League for 30 years now, so it’s strange for me to know that the NFL is headed irreversibly toward collapse — its foundation crumbling around it even as its worth skyrockets — and not be saddened. On the contrary, I welcome its death with open arms.
Under the watchful eye of former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and even more so during the first part of current commissioner Roger Goodell’s ongoing tenure, the NFL grew to its zenith. America’s most beloved sport, worth billions and billions every year in revenue to the league’s owners, players, and other affiliated holders of interest, could do no wrong.
Then it did wrong. And tried to cover it up with more wrong. And covered that up with even wronger wrongs.
As the league became a lumbering, slothful behemoth, cracks began to show: first, through suspect rule changes, tweaks, and calls, the NFL mysteriously elevated the New England Patriots to a headlining spot. Then, as proof of organizational cheating came to light (so-called “SpyGate,” which accounted for three New England Super Bowl wins), the league issued a slap on the wrist and destroyed the evidence. Then, after the organization cheated again and again, Goodell, fearful of the paying public finding fallibility in their golden product, decided to lay down exceedingly harsh punishment for a very stupid, insignificant sort of cheating (so-called “DeflateGate,” which — come on, who cares) as a make-up punishment for the previous stolen championships.
The resulting drawn-out legal fight showed fans just what they had been paying for in recent years: a product with an outcome no less in doubt than professional wrestling, run by an incompetent and narcissistic league office hell-bent on its own legacy of absolute power.
If that wasn’t enough, evidence began to mount that repeatedly head-butting other people causes massive, irreparable brain damage in the form of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, which afflicts those who acquire it — some 98% of players or so, according to studies — with Parkinson’s-like symptoms, suicidal depression, dementia, and early death. The league quickly enacted rule changes to protect players (you can’t touch the quarterback, you can’t tackle a guy who isn’t looking you straight in the eye, you can’t block, you can’t run too fast on kickoff coverage, etc.), but that only served to anger many fans who saw the changes as further watering-down of the game they once loved.
With the omnipresence of social media, the players are no longer what football players used to be: boys given free rides through life, with tests taken for them, sex handed to them, and a blind eye to malfeasance. Now, many players are stunned to find that the fans are watching them as they beat their girlfriends, rape women, inhale cocaine, and run people over while drunk driving. All, of course, more reason for Goodell and his lawyers to lay down fines and suspensions without even waiting for the legal system to take its course.
Worst of all, Colin Kaepernick had the gall to protest police antagonism toward black people. Apparently a lot of corn-fed middle Americans didn’t like that. But the protests caught on. More and more players will continue to rub the fanbase the wrong way as they stand (or kneel) for their right to object to inhumane institutional behavior.
People are pulling their children from the sport en masse as they realize their dreams of athletic stardom can come more easily — and with far less death and disgrace — from baseball, basketball, or any other sport at all. The NFL’s ad revenue has taken a hit, and the once-unthinkable has become reality: fans are leaving the NFL. Only slowly now, but the pace will quicken. This lumbering behemoth grew too large, too slothful, too arrogant, and soon it will implode under its own weight. I can’t wait.
Anyway, our preview for the 2017 season is that it’ll come down to some stupid Super Bowl matchup like the Saints against the Texans.