Football, despite its declining ratings, is still the most popular sport in the United States. Thus the list of the 20 most-watched television broadcasts of all-time is almost exclusively comprised of Super Bowls, excluding the finale of M*A*S*H. The sport has been able to survive the Ray Rice debacle, the repeat with Josh Brown and the seemingly arbitrary suspensions handed down by Roger Goodell, the covering up of concussion data and the resulting number of former players having their lives irreparably damaged and/or ended.
We’ve seen star players start to retire early, valuing their future health more than the allure of making millions of dollars playing on Sunday…and Monday…and sometimes Thursday. To reinforce how out of touch with reality he really is, Goodell went on Colin Cowherd’s radio show and claimed that by “almost by every barometer, the quality of the game is better on Thursday night.” Well, according to the fans and players, and science, it’s actually much worse. The league’s data suggests that the amount of injuries on Thursday is roughly the same as on Sunday, but the players beg to differ, calling it “horrible,” and saying that it takes their bodies until Friday or Saturday after a Sunday game to feel recovered.
It’s well known that football is a dangerous sport – there was even a Will Smith movie about the league’s cover-up of concussion data a little over a year ago -, and Dr. Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist who Smith depicted, claims that over 90% of NFL players will develop CTE, not only from multiple concussions but from repeated sub-concussive hits. Dr. Robert Stern, a neuropsychologist, CTE researcher, and colleague of Omalu said that “it has been so frustrating for me, seeing so much of the focus being on concussions.” The big-time helmet-to-helmet hits that blatantly cause concussions get the most coverage, but he found that there was little difference between the brains of football players that had suffered a severe head trauma and those who had sustained repeated hits.
Purdue University researchers studying high school football players have found that about 5 to 10 percent will be diagnosed with a concussion each season, but 50 to 80 percent will suffer equivalent brain damage when examined via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests. Dr. Eric Nauman said that “We found that it’s very hard to tell, when you look at the MRI of a person’s brain who’s had a bunch of hits [and compare it] to the person who has a concussion, the pictures look almost identical.”
The big hits that seem most directly connected to concussions—the same hits shown on highlight reels every weekend in the fall—are the ones that catch everyone’s attention. But just because a player avoids dramatic collisions and diagnosed concussions doesn’t mean they’re avoiding brain injury.
Even if there are players walking away early and a growing number of parents barring their children from playing the game, there will be players there to fill in and take their shot at glory, and one can’t really blame them. There’s a lot of money to be made, however, kids who play football before the age of twelve are more likely to develop memory problems as an adult according to a Boston University study. So why exactly is this extremely dangerous and likely immoral game so popular? Many have theorized that it has become the equivalent of the gladiator games in Roman times, which were more grotesquely violent, but ultimately trigger the same primal urges.
Whatever made the NFL so popular seems to have at least plateaued, if not fallen off. The NBA has been growing rapidly in recent years, while this season has been the first to see the NFL ratings actually declining. Some blamed it on the intense presidential election, which probably did have something to do with it, but millennials generally prefer the NBA, while the age of an average NFL fan is rising. The NFL is a long way from any financial ruin, but it’s no surprise that younger audiences are less enthralled with their product. We’ve been raised in an era where the dangers of the sport have been made clear, and the game just isn’t as exciting as other sports. The games go on about 2 hours too long – there are only 11 minutes of game action per NFL contest -, and penalties (or at least the threat of them) ruin every big play.
Enjoy your family and friends on this Super Bowl Sunday (and the coerced corporate indoctrination), but I for one, am ready to get back to basketball on Monday.