Claire McNear breaks down the NFL’s entertainment fallacy for The Ringer

NFL entertainment

A few thoughts on this excellent piece by Claire McNear for The Ringer:

Claire thinks the NFL is no longer fun; I agree

I outlined my thoughts a few weeks back, but Claire frames it up nicely by saying it simply: NFL Football is supposed to be entertainment, but the controversies and violence have robbed it of that value.

She makes a valid point: It isn’t really new, either

We’re just finally starting to notice.

I find myself returning again and again to the suspicion that much of the discord—in outline, if not in specifics—has been here for some time, and in the past we’ve just been distracted by the football itself. This year, you might have heard, the quality of games has been lackluster: The caliber of quarterback play has been lacking; scoring across the league has been down; in Week 8, not a single game was played between teams with winning records.

I haven’t been watching so I can’t comment on the quality of the games, but yes, in the past, the love of the game, the players, your favorite team, your Sunday routine—they overshadowed the noise. But this year the noise got so loud, and the games have seemingly gotten worse, so the script has flipped.

The question then becomes, do enough people care?

Ratings are down, sponsors are complaining and owners are panicking. But what are we talking about here: a few less million for already rich-beyond-measure old white men?

It’s gonna take a lot more Americans tuning out before it really makes a difference. And what then? It’s not like it’s my goal to see NFL football go away; I would simply like to see it be a little more labor-friendly (and have those labor relations a little less tinged with racism) (OK, a lot less tinged). But will that ever happen? Is there even a workable solution that keeps football remotely the same as it is now? I don’t know.

Kudos to The Ringer, by the way…

I was just about out on The Ringer six months ago. Too much Hollywood and tech culture reporting, and way too many silly “fictionalized account” stories. The last couple months they’ve seemingly refocused on sports and I’m much more impressed with the content; their sports stories were always their best work. I hope it stays that way; it might just seem that way now because we had all four sports running for a full month there. We’ll see.

… especially for all of their diverse voices

It’s sad that there are still not enough women writing about sports, but I credit The Ringer for giving so many women a platform to write about sports and more; it would be very easy for them to pigeonhole their women as their Hollywood or pop culture writers, but Claire McNear, Haley O’Shaughnessy, Mallory Rubin, Alison Herman, Juliet Litman, and Kate Knibbs are all doing excellent, high-profile work on the NBA, NFL, MLB and tech beats. I still think they’re underutilizing Katie Baker though!

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So in case you missed it, I still haven’t watched a down of NFL football this year. I might feel different once the playoffs start, but I don’t miss it, at all.

ESPN piles on

Yesterday I said,

That the NFL has not unequivocally taken a stance behind its players and supported their first-amendment-protected rights is disgraceful…

Then ESPN went ahead and suspended Jemele Hill for, I don’t know, daring to be a black woman with her own thoughts and the ability to type them, I guess, proving that the NFL isn’t the only organization that doesn’t have the backs of its workforce, at least not when they’re minorities.

Drew Magary nails it:

A decent boss—shit, a decent person—would support Hill and protect her from this horseshit. ESPN didn’t. They shoved her into the wolf cage and locked the gate shut.

I guess the fact that ESPN is one of the NFL’s biggest partners is just another reason not to watch anymore.

“This is what systemic oppression looks like”

A quick follow-up to my football piece from this morning, here’s San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid on Vice-President Pence’s “walkout” stunt:

“So this looks like a PR stunt to me. He knew our team has had the most players protest. He knew that we were probably going to do it again,” Reid said.

“This is what systemic oppression looks like,” he said. “A man with power comes to the game, tweets a couple of things out and leaves the game with an attempt to thwart our efforts. Based on the information I have, that’s the assumption I’ve made.”

Sounds right to me.

Why I’m not watching football right now

This past Sunday, my wife asked me, “does football season start this weekend?” Her only barometer for when the season starts is when I start watching; since she hadn’t seen me watching she didn’t know the season was already a month old.

It’s true: Week 5 just ended and I haven’t watched a single down of the 2017 NFL season.

Naturally my wife asked me why I wasn’t watching. I struggled to put it into words, because there are a number of reasons; it isn’t a simple answer.

I used to be a diehard NFL fan, watching football for about 12 hours every Sunday and three more on Mondays. The number started to decrease three years ago when we cancelled our cable subscription, mainly because I didn’t have easy access to the games (only getting two per week over the air, and the NFL steaming package was ridiculously expensive1). But truthfully I was OK with that decrease because—and this will sound familiar if you read my post on Facebook—watching the NFL has made me increasingly uncomfortable. And I think over the summer I just hit the breaking point… and certainly nothing that’s happened this season has made me regret it.

(Sure, I’m missed some great moments—like the Packers’ comeback against the Cowboys yesterday—but I’m happy reading about it on Deadspin for now.)

What’s making me uncomfortable? Here’s a sampling:

Concussions. This is the big one: The league’s stance on the impact of repeated head trauma and concussions, and the long-term consequences… the way the dragged their feet on admitting the dangers, refused to pay for health care, continued to promote “big hits”, refused to make changes to make the game safer… I could go on. Read more here and here.

The way the league arbitrarily disciplines its players. From Ray Rice to the Saints to Tom Brady to Ezekiel Elliot, there are sooo many problems with the way the league handles this I don’t even know where to begin. Except to say this: In no universe does it make sense for someone with no background in either football or law to serve as the sole judge and jury in these cases. Except that’s what the league has done in inexplicably appointing its commissioner as its arbiter of justice. And he (unsurprisingly) always gets it wrong. And yet the league is fine with this continuing as-is. Read more here and here.

The “domestic violence problem”. First of all, I think it’s important to point out that the league doesn’t actually have a domestic violence problem; hand-wringing columnists will tell you it does, but statistics show that NFL players are no more or less likely to commit crimes than any other group (and are far below the national average for their gender and age group). It’s just that they’re famous, so they’re in the news. (And that they’re almost always black, and those hand-wringing columnists are almost always white. Isn’t that curious?) Which makes it a PR problem for the league. Their response? The league decides it needs to become “a leader in the domestic violence space” (their words). Of course, since issuing that asinine statement, the NFL has managed only to issue one tone-deaf and inadequate response after another while making scapegoats of shitty players and excuses a’plenty for those that can still play. And I can only shake my head in dismay. More here, and for the love of God, watch Katie Nolan:

Their joke of a “breast cancer awareness” program. Read about it here; it’s nothing more than pandering to an audience (women) that they want to make more money from. Not convinced? Read this one. And then go back and think about the “domestic violence space”, and tell me if you think that’s really about making a difference in the community or teaching players to value and respect women, or if it’s just another part of the “pander to women and turn them into paying customers” playbook.

Colin Kaepernick and the “anthem protests”. I could write 10,000 words on this, but I don’t think I need to say anything here, do I? That the NFL has not unequivocally taken a stance behind its players and supported their first-amendment-protected rights is disgraceful enough. That they then tried to turn the whole thing into an ad campaign about “unity,” thus completely missing the point? I mean, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised but… come on.

I guess the other thing that really got me going about all this is just how many fans don’t support the players. People booed! Their own team! How can you boo players who simply don’t want to see any more innocent people get killed? Who have taken a peaceful, silent protest to draw attention to this issue? That they are 100 percent within their rights to do? If that’s really how ignorant football fans are, well then… it makes me uncomfortable to be associated with them.

Oh, and this past weekend’s publicity stunt by Vice-President Pence was the icing on the cake.

Those are five huge issues and I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting. It’s all just had a cumulative effect of, “I’m tired of this, it isn’t worth it, I don’t want to engage with it any more.”

At least right now. I’m not saying this is how I’ll feel forever. My mind might change. I might start to miss it. Maybe the league will change! Anything is possible. But for right now, I just can’t support it the same way. I’ll be satisfied checking the scores and reading the updates online.

1I can’t find the exact numbers but I believe it was USD$280 in 2014; That’s for 256 games, and they’re only on three days a week. (In comparison, the NBA is USD$160, for 1256 games, on almost every day.) Curiously, this year, the NFL has a new streaming partner in Canada, DAZN, which promises every NFL game for $20/month. For five months you’re looking at only $100 – Canadian – so that’s a great deal! It’s almost a shame I don’t wanna watch any more… but the fact that the service has been terrible and unwatchable doesn’t make me feel too bad.