The NFL Has You
You can see it if you squint a bit. It’s actually impossible not to, really. If you’ve watched even five minutes of the NFL Draft you can imagine Roger Goodell. Imagine him in a black suit, black tie, black shades. There it is. A striking resemblance, isn’t it? Roger Goodell could be Agent Smith.
The NFL is the most powerful sports league in the world. All 32 of its franchises are on the Forbes 50 most valuable sports teams list. The Cowboys set the standard at $4 billion. In a world where money talks (and talks and talks and talks), the NFL controls the conversation better than any non-government entity on the planet.
The NFL is an omnipresent power, monopolizing our entertainment hours. According to a four-year old AdWeek Harris Poll, 27% of Americans watch between six and ten hours per week of NFL. That’s not counting the number of hours they browse on the Internet or through apps on their phones. That kind of time investment is perspective altering.
The NFL is a marketing machine. It has our eyeballs and it knows. At every moment, we devour the NFL’s marketing rhetoric, ‘Are you ready for some football?’ It bills itself as the liberator of our dull lives, the force that sets us free from our worries three days a week (or, depending on how much the NFL tells you to pay attention, 365 days a year).
Behind the commercials, the flashy curtain meant to distract, the NFL does its best work. It makes a concerted effort to strong-arm its dissenters. To those on the fence, the NFL’s aesthetic, marketing-concerted barrage will tell you everything is going to be awesome. Football is all around us.
But everything isn’t even ok right now.
As you read this article, preparing for another whirlwind weekend of NFL games, the NFL’s intricate workings are on full display. For the third consecutive year, the NFL is broadcasting Thursday night games every week of the season. There was once a time when Thursday games were an extremely contentious issue. That feels so long ago.
As it does, the NFL’s PR machine went into a whirl; tactfully deflecting the push back from the NFPLA and the odd media outlet (who spent their off-hours building up the NFL’s product) about safety issues from the games and simply insisted them into existence. Does anyone even remember how it all happened?
By now, the damage has been done. The public view of the game has changed. Thursday night games not a thing to worry about, the NFL has told us. Because Agent Goodell has spent years of his tenure instituting player fines for hits on defenseless players, leading with the head, hitting quarterbacks anywhere but the bellybutton — nearly any manner in which to send the message the players could not be trusted to protect themselves or each other.
The NFL has used draconian displays of power over players on everything from bounty scandals (the players are victimizing each other), domestic violence (the players are victimizing regular people), to air pressure (the players are victimizing integrity). Agent Goodell's position (negotiated in the previous last CBA) in the disciplinary process has made him both judge and jury — even on appeals — but also the programmer of what excessive violence in the sport apparently looks like. Conveniently now, he is open to changing that.
The NFL would tell you that the players are the fools. The players are the ones damaging the sport we love. The players can’t help themselves. Each step of the way, the NFL and its Agent Goodell has insisted they are protecting the shield. The NFL is the only one who can.
Like sports, Hollywood is a bubble realm with its own set of rules; ethics that govern it. It’s just as much an old boys club as profession sports is. It isn’t kind to women and, until recently, hasn’t been kind to homosexuality as could generate headlines and bottom lines. Familiar to anyone?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the upcoming Sony film, Concussion, has been reportedly toned down via pressure from the NFL. Concussion’s trailer purports the film to be a David vs. Goliath take on the NFL’s CTE debacle, so vividly dissected in League of Denial and on PBS.
Smith stars as Dr. Bennett Omalu, the doctor who first discovered a case of CTE in a retired professional American football player, Mike Webster. You should know the story by now but if you don’t, at the time of his death in 2002, Webster was a shadow of his former self. His brain came into Omalu’s possession and when he studied the brain, he discovered CTE.
Lawsuits were filed on the strength of these discoveries and the league made a payout of a shade under a billion dollars. Which, to them, isn’t much (ten players opposed the settlement which is still ongoing through the courts).
The last thing the NFL wants now is a major Hollywood depiction of just how little it cares about their product’s health risks. In the NFL’s reality, no one can help the game of football unless it is them; because they know better.
There is no reason to stop loving the sport of football. There is no reason to stop loving the aspects of it — the hits, the size, the speed — that lead to its participants destroying their bodies. However, no one likes being told what, when and how to think.
Take a moment to recall about your weekends. What you do. Why you do them. Without the NFL, what would change? It would likely include a different of attire on Sunday morning, perhaps a new beverage choice (or fewer of your standard). Think about how the NFL has shaped the reality of our lives.
The NFL has given us countless reasons to put our wallet back in our pocket. The next time they release new, technologically advanced, cutting edge jersey designs, will we? Would we even want to?
Because what is the NFL? Control — of our Sundays. The NFL has you.