Super Bowl 50 was the final nail in the subpar coffin. The Broncos beat the Panthers 24-10 that was yet another anticlimactic game in a long line of disappointments in the 2015 season, yet the stats show the league has never been more popular.
Sunday’s Super Bowl drew the third largest crowd in U.S. television history, with an average audience of 111.9 million viewers. Just one year ago, the Super Bowl drew the largest TV audience ever — 114.4 million viewers. These audiences prove year after year that it doesn’t matter what kind of controversy the National Football League is able to court, how badly the League or team owners treat cities, players or fans, they will still maintain their spot as guardians of the most popular sport in America unless the fans demand an end to the madness.
In the pros, the main discussion is centered around concussions. The highly publicized suicides of Dave Duerson, Mike Webster and Junior Seau are what led to the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is marked by the accumulation of the tau protein in brain tissue. This then causes reduction in memory and cognition, as well as everything from suicidal thoughts to dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Even the NFL has admitted that CTE and the diseases and disorders it causes have become endemic. In a 2014 court filing, the League estimated that a third of former players would develop some kind of degenerative brain disease like Parkinson’s or dementia. Those numbers came after 5,000 former players sued the NFL because it allegedly covered up the danger behind repeated concussions.
The issue has trickled down to the college and youth levels and Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian-born Pennsylvania doctor who first discovered CTE in the brains of deceased football players, has achieved relative stardom with his portrayal by Will Smith in the movie “Concussion.”
Even so, it is fairly safe to say that football, in all its forms from pee-wee to the NFL, is in a state of invincibility. The 2015 season saw 11 football-related deaths in youth football across the country. The outbreak was covered by the national media and was a major talking point across the sport. Is football safe for kids? Should parents let their kids play? For the most part, the numbers aren’t showing that parents think the game is dangerous. Despite a near 10 percent decrease in Pop Warner participation in 2010-2012, high school football has remained as popular as ever.
More than that, the NFL has also shown a clear disregard for the cities and fans who bankroll their operation. Despite the fact that the City of St. Louis offered hundreds of millions in public money for a new stadium, the NFL rejected the offer, calling it “inadequate.”
The St. Louis Rams will now be the Los Angeles Rams.
But the NFL’s monetary skullduggery is not limited to St. Louis. When the San Francisco 49ers moved from their old stadium, Candlestick Park, the personal seat licenses for 1,000 seats went for $80,000. Sixty-six-year-old Henry Gross had season tickets on Candlestick’s 50-yard-line for $129 per game. To keep the rights to his seats in the new stadium, Gross would have had to pay $350 per ticket, plus a one-time PSL of $30,000 for each seat. Gross’ story was a common one in the Bay Area, but the 49ers had no trouble selling out their new stadium.
Despite all of this, every major network reported an increase in NFL ratings for the 2016 season. The NFL is an organization driven by money. As long as its revenue streams remain untouched, it will not change. The NFL has proven to America that it would rather pay lawyers to discredit the science behind CTE than take steps to protect its players. It would sooner extort American cities than cater to its existing fans and all to turn a bigger profit.
None of this will stop unless the money stops, and the money stops at the consumer level. Everything from TV deals to merchandising details depends on the average American’s continued consumption. To change the NFL, we must all vote with our wallets and make our voices known.
If we continue to do nothing, football will stay stuck in its rut and the League will continue to run roughshod over its fans, its players and the cities that host it all.
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