Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

Is the NFL heading in the right direction?

I mean… no. We know this. Look at ratings, look at all the coverage, look at the President’s Twitter account.

That being said, I’m not sure those in charge know how to fix it. Honestly, I don’t think I know how to fix it. Do any of us see a light at the end of the tunnel?

What needs to change to improve the league?

This is a legitimate question to ask as we move toward the end of a tumultuous season. With star players succumbing to injuries at a rate we’ve never yet encountered, a fan base splitting at its seams, and owners who are unable to find footing when it comes to player & fan relations- one has to wonder how long the NFL will actually… dare I say… exist.

And from all of this, all of these different dilemmas and negative headlines, I ask myself: Am I embarrassed to like football; if not, should I be? Should we all take another look at what this game does to us as a people?

I’m an avid fan. This season, I went to five NFL games in-person and watched almost every Sunday. I don’t say I’m a diehard fan anymore only because I haven’t painted my face or barren stomach in about 10 years. Football hinges on all of us as patrons, ad sponsors. and consumers and what happens if we aren’t there to do our part and cheer/buy beer?

The fanbase seems to be splintering. NFL viewership was down 10% this past season. When are we going to look around and ask each other “What’s going on? Why doesn’t America treasure its famous athlete-child anymore?”

I was on a date the other night. This may seem like a shock to most of my friends, but I promise, I was on a date. During a moment of millennial idling, I checked my phone and saw the hit on Travis Kelce by Jonathan Cyprien. After my face grimaced a bit, (I’m an expressive person) she asked me what was happening and I refused to show her. She eventually got me to concede. It replayed in slow-motion, from different angles, showing Kelce’s head getting drilled and his extremities momentarily going numb. Scary.

The young woman commented on how dangerous football is, I had no defense (much like the Chiefs at the end of the game) and we continued to have a nice evening with the NFL no longer a point of conversation.

It’s funny, though. I now realize that my trepidation in showing her the hit wasn’t to protect her, nor to say, “don’t watch this hardcore thing because you won’t understand.” No, I believe that I didn’t want to show her the video because I didn’t want my football fandom and my indulgence in its viciousness to be a topic of conversation. Maybe others have gone through this and also feel this odd sense of guilt.

I love watching football and it’s almost inexplicable. What is it?! Why do I feel I need to hide something that I spend at least 10 hours/week thinking about/watching?

The gladiator spirit of football is still alive and I LOVE it. And maybe talking about that scares me.

When it’s boiled down, we love three principles of the NFL:
The tactical nature of strategic warfare-
The physically prime men facing off against each other-
The communal exaltation when our team succeeds (and the pain when it doesn’t).

It’s not that football is a man’s sport; It’s that football is a barbaric sport that we’ve held onto as we progress through time from an era focused on dominance and brutishness into an age of technological advancements that we can’t comprehend and vulnerability that is infiltrating an unfeeling and mathematical way of doing business. How does vulnerability fit into football? (Ask Odell after one of his sideline emotional outbursts)

How does the sport care for itself? How does it care for its veterans? How does it care for its future? These are all questions that are unfit for Roger Goodell and will hound the league’s next Commissioner five years from now. There are all questions that we keep asking to no avail and the league isn’t answering us.

For the next half-decade, we need to take it upon ourselves to answer these questions as they get deflected from the NFLPA to the League Office and the fans continue to form their own opinions of a league plagued by its commissioner.

How do we adjust to becoming conscientious consumers of carnage? Does the sport allow for one to be a sensitive viewer? Will the NFL just evaporate? I mean, the gladiators time came to an end… or did it?

Will we ever stop watching? Will the NFL ever do something that grinds our gears hard enough and frustrates us to the point of abandonment? Even scarier, will our fandom cloud our sense of judgment and make us stay?

…it already has.

We’ve become accustomed to the abuse and for one day a week we stand witness to organized warfare.

This feature is based in more questions than answers. Feel free to comment what you think, answer a question, tell me off, etc.

In any case, I’ll be watching this weekend about as fervently as ever. There will be a voice in the back of my head, though, questioning & reminding myself about what I’m watching and why I like it and why that sickens me.

%d bloggers like this: