I love American football. I was a late bloomer and too small to play it in high school, but I played in flag leagues until I was thirty. Flag league football might sound tame, but taking tackling out of the equation has to be weighed against wearing no helmets or pads. As someone who primarily played linebacker and defensive end, playing football was three hours of bone-crunching hits against other, frequently larger, human beings. My older brother played until he was forty. Shortly before he died last year he questioned whether all the concussions he’d sustained had contributed to the depression that plagued him beginning shortly after he “retired.” Until he mentioned it, the thought hadn’t occurred to me. After his death, his speculation began to plague me.
My wife is adamant that my six year-old son not play the game. He doesn’t accept her reasoning, insisting that he somehow will avoid getting concussions. He’s too young to play in any case, but I feel the pull of both of their arguments. I know the joy of football, and I also know the risks.
As awareness has grown about brain injuries, more and more parents and even football players are keeping their kids away from the game. I imagine it’s taking some toll on how many people even watch football on television, and it’s probably a factor in the bad ratings the NFL is getting this year.
Yet, I have another explanation. For me, professional football is something that happens at 1pm and 4pm on Sunday afternoons. I have never liked it when my New York Giants are scheduled on Monday nights. I like Thursday and Sunday nights even less. The NFL is now airing games at 9:30 in the morning on Sunday because they’re sending teams to London, England to play. In theory, this lets us see more games, but I don’t want to watch that much football and, even if I did, my wife has a tolerance level that can accommodate a six-hour stretch on Sunday afternoon and not much beyond that. I know she is not alone.
There’s a feel to a pro football game on an autumn Sunday afternoon. There’s an element of nostalgia to it. You can remember spending a Sunday afternoon with your Dad watching Joe Theismann and Phil Simms square off. Trying to watch football on Thursday night is like having Christmas on Dec. 21st. Maybe that’s the only time your family can get together to open presents, but it’s not the same.
To me, at least, Sunday afternoon is a key part of the NFL’s brand, and the league has watered it down so much that it has begun to lose it’s grip on that time slot in my life.
There are other factors, like more awareness of domestic violence committed by players. Perhaps the league has a few too many teams which has watered down the talent (at least, at quarterback). Speaking of quarterbacks, it matters that Peyton Manning retired and Tom Brady was suspended to begin the season. Yes, it matters that the referees are calling more holding and pass interference penalties than ever, not to mention calls for excessive celebration.
All of that could explain why the ratings are down for pro football but not for the World Series or the NBA.
But, for me, it’s the fact that a third of the games are on at a time when I’m not emotionally invested in or satisfied by watching football.