Roasting the Goose, Part 2

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Now That’s Entertainment…

by Ivan Cole

Someday a history will be written that chronicles how certain aspects of the corporate mindset laid to waste so much that was positive in our culture. Fidelity to the idea of short term profitability that, at first, gives all the appearances of being an effective path to prosperity eventually proves to be woefully short sighted and corrosive.

Some may be quick to heap scorn on the corporate culture of the NFL, and specifically Commissioner Roger Goodell, but the reality is that their behavior and that of many of their partners adheres close to norm of what transpires throughout our society. They become trapped in a low consciousness mindset that almost inevitably leads to the torture and slaying of the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Fantasy

PaVaSteelers is unapologetic in his total disdain for Fantasy Football, and I am right there with him. Our view would run counter to corporate logic, which sees Fantasy as engaging, profitable and smart, which it certainly is in the short term. The problem is that it serves to separate fans not just from the game’s considerable virtues, but also from the very essence of the game itself.

Football has been described by some as the ultimate team game, an assessment that I don’t disagree with. So much of the beauty of the game is contained within the interdependent action and choreography of its ensemble work. Fantasy throws all that out the window in favor of an ethic that emphasizes a focus on the individual conduits of group success.

Where activity can’t easily be individually quantified, such as offensive line play, it is ignored. On the other hand, wide receivers, arguably the narcissists and sociopaths of the football culture—Odell Beckham, Chad OchoCinco, Terrell Owens, think about it—are lionized.

But that’s not the worst of it. Ultimately, the drama of the games, their outcomes and the fate of teams can become irrelevant. You don’t have to be present at the track or watch the competition to benefit from the result of a horse race. The best venue for a devoted fantasy player is not home in the rec room. Ideally, it is in a democratic sports bar where all games are being viewed at once.

Problem is, that is not how advertisers, the big funders of this exercise, keep score. Viewed in longer terms, a price may be paid eventually in forcing a template upon football that may be well suited to baseball or basketball, but does not play to the game’s strengths.

Take those strengths, and the beauty they contain away, and what you are left with is a brutish, gladiator style spectacle that will enjoy increasingly precarious support.

Martavis Bryant

You can be forgiven if you have forgotten seeing the last football act Bryant performed. His spectacular circus catch for a touchdown was the performance highlight of the Wildcard playoff game between Pittsburgh and the Bengals. That moment became submerged beneath the chaos and craziness of the ending. And, of course, it was ten months ago.

Now we won’t be seeing Bryant again for another eleven months—that is, Goodell willing. What was that question again? Why is viewership down?

Of course we cannot allow Martavis’ crimes to go unpunished. When he beat up that woman..no? Well, when he shot up that club..no? Certainly it had to be the vehicular homicide when he was drunk driving 100 mph down Fifth Avenue..no? Oh, that’s right, it was the result of drug testing.

Well, heroin is serious business..not heroin? Meth? Robitussin? Weed. Not that there isn’t precedence in the wider society mind you. There are literally people in our prison system that are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole when their only crime was marijuana possession. So I guess Bryant has actually gotten off easy. And let that be a lesson to you too, Le’Veon.

But let’s loosen our chastity belts for a moment and contemplate whether, given the gravity of the crime, taking Bryant out of circulation for the better part of two years is a good business move. Thinking like this represents the opposite extreme from that of the previous topic.

We have gone from an inappropriate elevation of individualism that undermines the essence of the game to the suppression of much of the league’s high level talent, more out of a sense of imposing conformity and control rather than adhering to any kind of ethical standard. And perhaps in the process we have revealed a faith in the idea that the uniforms are more important than those who occupy them.

So, let’s just consider the Steelers for a moment. Putting aside for the time being the impact of injuries, which I will get to, Bryant and Bell will miss a combined 27 games due to issues related to marijuana consumption. (One has to wonder what would have become of Bobby Layne and Big Daddy Lipscomb in this era.)

Don’t get me wrong, Sammie Coates and DeAngelo Williams are great guys and quality talents, but c’mon. Do you honestly believe that the motivation to tune in to watch them play is the same? They are not alone. Ben and James Harrison have been suspended.

If you recall, in Deebo’s case it was for an action that the league then turned around and sold on video to fans on its website. That’s how appalling and beyond the pale it was. You may also remember that Harrison, along with prominent players from other teams, were threatened by the league over this past summer.

Speaking of threats, D-Will and Cam Heyward (there are a couple of miscreants for you) were threatened with fines for desecrating corporate property with tributes to their deceased parents.

And then there is the ticking time bomb that is Antonio Brown. You may be unaware that the league has added a “two strikes you are out” unsportsmanlike conduct rule this season, of which AB’s end zone celebrations qualify. So Brown walks a fine line, one errant twerk from being thrown out of a game and then fined.

Moving beyond Pittsburgh, we must note that stars like Tom Brady and Adrian Petersen have been subjected to punitive suspensions, so please don’t think this is a ‘they’re picking on the Steelers’ exercise.

As Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post articulates so well, in its misguided efforts to assert and maintain control over its players, the league has criminalized behaviors and actions that in many cases are, at worst, annoying and tasteless, but little else. By equating these things with much more legitimate concerns such as domestic violence or the types of on the field violations that place the health and safety of the participants at risk, they trivialize the latter and undermine their own credibility.

That a team would be subjected to penalties of similar severity for a twerk as it would for a blow to the head or a chop block—that players are suspended to the same extent as colleagues who have assaulted a woman or a child—for the use, recreationally, of a substance that offers no competitive advantage, and is legal to consume in the cities where one fifth of teams in the league operate—that players are nitpicked and fined for not adhering to corporate uniform standards while their bosses have to be shamed and threatened into showing a similar level of diligence in policing head injuries and their aftermath—reveals a level of bankruptcy that can only encourage reactions of contempt and disgust by all who are exposed to such degeneracy.

Can any of this be considered good for the game? When you think of the Shield does it bring to mind Captain America, where the NFL is seen as the protector of our national virtue? Fan Duel, anyone?

Injuries

Given current events, do I have to say much about this at all? Obviously, suspensions might not be the worst of it. Injuries are now ravaging the game to a degree scarcely imaginable. Bell, just as one example, has missed more games to injury in the last couple of seasons as to suspensions. Again, we have been conditioned in recent years to focus upon our own woes, but across the league marquee players like Petersen and JJ Watt are gone. And now Ben is out.

Put it another way. Knowing what we do now, if you wanted to arrange for a ratings friendly showdown between Ben and Tom Brady, as it has played out, they would both be available in only one of the first six weeks of the 2016 season, with injury and suspension eliminating the other possibilities, including this week, week seven.

There might not be anything we can do about injuries. At least that is the party line. But let us consider the following—the NFL may be in an arms race that can only lead to disaster for many of its players. We have the knowledge and training methods to produce players who are as strong as oxen and as fast as gazelles. But the capacity of bones, tendons and ligaments of the players to withstand the stresses that are produced is limited.

In addition, it is unclear to me as to whether the type of peak conditioning typified by James Harrison is the only shield against suffering injury, or if the fact that the body is never allowed to rest contributes to the risk factors. It is interesting and noteworthy to me that the Steelers have taken to advising some of their young players such as Le’Veon Bell, Bud Dupree and Jesse James to play at lower weight levels than they competed at in college.

But one thing is likely certain. The greed that motivates the corporate mindset of the league that pushes the envelope year around for everyone associated with the game, plus the undisguised desire to increase the number of games played, as well as keeping roster sizes at minimum levels, pretty much guarantees that players will break down and the game will degrade as a result.

Part 3 will address media coverage and how the game is marketed.

8 comments

  • My Goodness. This site is beyond amazing. I miss you all from the former site. You take football and turn it into the real world. I am so close to walking away from the game but you remind me of why I started loving it. The writers here are so far beyond the basic sports writer that I believe there is no common ground. Please keep letting me read the way I like to read about my favorite past time. Thank you for having this place to be

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  • And thank you for your kind and encouraging words. It makes a difference.

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  • I’ll be interested in how you address the Kaepernick issue and ratings , because it’s really hard to define how much of the decline is actually due to any one thing. Maybe impossible, because polling that issue becomes a giant game of liar’s poker.

    No question oversaturation sets the table for a decline. The NFL has become a staple. It’s no longer an event. And it is seldom “must watch TV.” Injuries, suspensions, and the like are robbing it of star quality, and sometimes taking away the heels in the story line.

    But the NFL is, for many of us, an escape. I’m one of those who may – or may not – be watching less football because of the protests. I’m sick of politics. (Actually, I’m also sick with walking pneumonia and full of antibiotics and that’s one reason I’ve been out of touch this past week. The other has to do with a Non-Disclosure Agreement that I sign every year on a certain job.) I understand that Kaepernick and the others have some right to protest (although they’re on the job and on the clock, which gives their employer certain rights to limit on-the-job protests). I also understand that Kaepernick’s grievances are very real and I believe his actions are sincere. But it’s also my right to turn the channel or do something else, like go see the fall foliage at Princeton, Lambertville, and New Hope, as I did last weekend. Sitting by the Delaware River last Sunday afternoon – rather than watching my Steelers – was a conscious choice. I wasn’t boycotting. Just that football isn’t “must watch TV” anymore.

    I don’t buy the single bullet theory here. I think there are multiple causes for the decline in ratings. But there is no question that the political protests are part of the poisonous cocktail. And there is no doubt in my mind that the NFL’s audience is older, more conservative, and more overtly patriotic that the general population. Absolutely, positively there are some viewers – especially veterans – who have had it with the NFL protests and have stopped watching. I have a folded burial flag in my bedroom, and love my country and my flag fiercely. I fully understand why folks see the protests as disrespecting the flag and refuse to watch.

    And just as positively, there are those who claim they aren’t watching because of the protests who either are still watching or wouldn’t be watching anyway. People lie to pollsters, you know. Some people hate Kaepernick, so they’ll say they’re not watching anymore and blame it on him. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the winter weather comes, and sitting by the river or a walk in the park aren’t at the top of everyone’s Sunday afternoon options.

    All I know, Ivan, is I enjoy football as an escape. And I’m tired of politics. I get enough politics six days a week. And when politics intrudes on my Sunday football, I don’t like it. And I’m watching less football this year. But there are so many other factors, it’s impossible for me to tell you exactly how much the protests have actually influenced my decision to find other things to do on Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, Sunday night, Monday night, or the Thursday Night Monster Horror Chiller Football Theater Night with 3D color rush uniforms. I guess it’s a combination of too damn much football and too much politics, and too many other things to do.

    But you’re absolutely right. They’re killing the goose.

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    • I think there are a lot of things fueling the decline, although someone on Peter King’s MMQB pointed out that the night games are the ones taking the real ratings hit.

      The NFL has been in danger of over saturating the market.

      Let’s face it, we’re old enough to remember when there was a true off season, when the only way to get a snippet of NFL news from February to July (the draft excluded) was to listen intently to a sports caster like the late Ken Beatrice or scour the Washington Post day in and day out.

      That changed with free agency in 1993, and the balloon has been expanding since then.

      Common sense suggests that the balloon can’t expand indefinitely. I think we’re seeing that this expansion has stopped. Now the question is will it stabilize, deflate slowly or explode? And will the NFL realize that expansion has stopped?

      In 2014 the NFL pushed the draft until the second week of May, seeking to extend its dominance even deeper into the calendar. I got the feeling then that was too far for even the most diehard fans and some journalists even hinted to it. And if you’ll notice, the NFL has pushed it back.

      We’ll see if they adjust to these other signals the market is sending.

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  • Excellent analysis.

    I’ve never been a fan of Fantasy Football, for the reasons you cite – it does not do justice to the impact that defensive players or offensive line has to the game. Sans that, they lose my interest. But as you’ve pointed out, the league seems more than happy to try to minimize those aspects of the game.

    With that said, I never thought of Fantasy Football is something that impacted ratings. However, if waht I’ve been told is correct, The Red Zone’s ratings are as strong as ever.

    Circumstantial evidence?

    Yes, but it suggests you might be on to something.

    Regarding the suspensions, and particularly Martavis Bryants I look at things a little differently. OK, let’s concede that I come from a sterner background/world view on marijuana use but will readily submit that criminalizing its possession/use has been a mistake.

    However, the pro-marijuana movement often seems like the anti-tobacco movement in reverse. Indeed, a friend of my wife remarked to me not too long ago “Keith, tendrias que entender, para los chicos de hoy, marijuana es el nuevo Marlboro” – translated, for kids today marijuana is the new Malboro – not sure that’s a good thing, even if we can agree that locking people up has been the wrong thing to do,

    Beyond that, I tend to side with Rebecca’s point, “If you’re going to lose your job if you don’t stop using, you’re addicted.”

    With that said, the Steelers most certainly miss Martavis on the field, no ifs ands or butts.

    Finally, in terms of injuries, you’re right.

    I think that we’re seeing a confluence of various factors here:

    if F = M*A then bigger and faster athletes are going to have greater impacts causing more injuries.
    On top of that, off season conditioning has been limited, as have workouts.
    Plus, you have things like the Thursday games worked in, which cause even more wear and tear on the bodies.

    Oh, but the NFL would STILL like to institute the 18 game season, we’re told.

    AT the end of the day, I think rosters must be expanded and/or IR rules must be changed.

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  • Pingback: Roasting the Goose, Part 4 | Going Deep:

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