Dang it. Once again my slowness in writing has caused someone with a lot more readership than I have to hit the same topic. Will Leitch has a piece in New York Magazine about whether the NFL is on a downward spiral. He hits a lot of the same notes I wanted to hit in a more personal post. His piece is really good, so I do recommend reading it. But I won’t let it stop me from sharing my own thoughts. Finally.
Over the past month I’ve seen a pretty big shift in the sports I watch. After several years of watching the NFL less and less, I’ve kind of given up on the game. My Sundays are more often spent watching the Food Network with one of my girls, if we’re going to spend the day watching TV, than going back-and-forth between Fox and CBS with the afternoon games. Where once NBC’s Sunday night game was required viewing, I don’t think I’ve watched it for more than 30 minutes all season combined.
Why the move away from the NFL? Long time readers know how our fall soccer schedule started the process a few years ago. September and October Sundays were all spent on soccer fields watching the girls play. That’s what began to break the life-long pull the NFL had on me. Then – again as I’ve written about before – the mismanagement of the Colts has taken a toll on me. I don’t have much interest watching a poorly constructed team lose by playing bad football most Sundays.
All the issues around football this year don’t help. Most of you would guess correctly I’m firmly on the side of the players in the kneeling during the anthem controversy. But I understand how some folks will be put off by that. I, though, am more put off by owners and advertisers trying to silence players. And I’m put off by the drama of Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell fighting about if Goodell should remain as commissioner and how much he should be paid. All these issues strike me as a league that is unclear on what its path forward should be, or worse attempting to distract from the real issue surrounding football that could threaten its future.
Yes, all we’re learning about the terrible toll football takes on the bodies and brains of its players has some effect on me, too. It’s hard to watch massive hits we grew up cheering knowing the long-term effects they carry. It’s frustrating to know that the NFL put off giving the players more protections for so long. And it’s terrible to see nearly every Sunday a player somehow avoids going under the concussion protocol despite taking a fearsome strike to the head.
Biggest, though, is simply the quality of play. The NFL just doesn’t seem as good or exciting as it used to. Part of that is just about every Sunday another superstar suffers a serious injury. Part of it is various rules and strategy changes that have made the games feel interminable. I fondly recall when the Peyton Manning Colts were at their zenith, when they were playing wide-open, pass-first football, but were so efficient at it that 1:00 games would sometimes end at 3:45. That was outside the norm, but it was possible. Games now, with all the replays and challenges and incomplete passes, are lucky if they check in at three hours fifteen minutes. That extra half hour, in which nothing happens, feels much longer.
(Quick aside: How can a guy who loves baseball complain about football games taking too long? Well, A) baseball does have a time problem, too. But B) length is part of baseball, and much more manageable as a fan watching at home. You can do other things while watching baseball. For football, you really need to be locked in lest you miss something important.)
I don’t know which of those factors is the biggest, but when you combine them they all result in me having no interest in watching the NFL. I still watch plenty of college football on Saturdays, which likely makes me a hypocrite on one level or another. College football just seems a lot more exciting despite still having the injury issue, games taking forever, and my favorite team sucking big time.
Balancing this somewhat is my slow shift into being an NBA fan again. I’ve watched a good chunk of most of the Pacers’ games this season, and often spend some time watching the national NBA games each evening.
For starters the Pacers are a lot of fun to watch. At least so far I was dead wrong on their return for Paul George. Victor Oladipo has been fabulous when thrust into the role as primary scorer. He’s exciting, plays with flair and passion, and is much better than I expected. Domantas Sabonis has also been great as the Pacers primary bench weapon. Kevin Pritchard made some other wise roster moves resulting in a team that runs, shoots, plays defense, and is generally fun to watch. They’re not going to challenge the Cavs or Celtics in the East, but they at least make you want to watch and root for them.
It also helps that the NBA is in a really good place right now. Most teams are about getting out and scoring. Most of the Pacers games I’ve watched this year have checked in at just under or right at two hours, which is the perfect amount of time for a regular season game. The games are brisk and entertaining.
You have the Warriors, who are an all-time great team, at least in terms of talent and style. That’s a sexy team to watch. You have LeBron, who is doing things no one his age should be able to do. You have Kyrie Irving, who has reinvented himself and is leading the Celtics to do things no one expected of them. You have James Harden and the Rockets, who are spectacular. You have Joel Embiid, the man-child who (for now) is healthy and doing amazing things. There’s the Greek Freak, the Thunder, The Zinger, the promise of the T-Wolves, and a couple dozen young guys who are loaded with potential to take over as older stars age out. It feels like every time you turn on an NBA game, you’re going to see something amazing that you’ll want to start texting people about.
Oh, and the NBA has embraced the idea of its players taking social and political stands. Granted, those views are generally progressive and fit with my world view. But, still, unlike the NFL which tries to turn its players into nameless, faceless, voiceless, interchangeable jerseys, the NBA appears much more open to allowing its players to both emote and entertain.
Put simply, the NBA is a lot of fun, while the NFL seems joyless.
I don’t miss the NFL. Whatever hole it leaves in my sporting life has been filled by trying to re-learn the NBA. Once the NFL was my perfect generic sport. College basketball was my passion. Baseball was my first love. But the NFL was the sport where it didn’t matter who was playing. If there was a game on, I could sit and watch for 15 minutes or 30, and be entertained. Those days are over.
- Emblematic of the Colts’ issues, after keeping the roof of Lucas Oil Stadium closed on several perfect Sundays earlier in the season, they opened it for last Sunday’s game, when it was nice, but still fairly cool inside the building. Appropriately the roof got stuck when they attempted to close it that night. It was fixed Monday but, still, symbolism and whatnot. ↩