Source: William Sullivan
“Hey guys. Just letting you know that I’m not gonna run the league this year. My heart’s not in it plus at least two guys are done with the NFL in general. Maybe next year all of the BS will blow over but until then y’all take care.”
This is how my NFL fantasy football league (established ca. 2005) came to its inglorious end last month. “Sounds good to me!” was one response to the league commissioner’s text message. “Same here… I don’t even care anymore” was another. There were no rebuttals or arguments in favor of continuing the league, which had long been a highlight of our lives in the fall season.
We’re not a particularly political bunch of guys or anything like that. If we are anything, we are pretty typical NFL fans.
Back in 2014, Neal Gabler gave the world a firsthand look at how progressives see NFL fans, lamenting at Reuters that the NFL was the “last bastion of white, male conservatives,” allowing them to “enjoy their world on Sunday — even if that world may be crumbling around them.” He cited an Experian Simmons study that showed that 83 percent of NFL fans were white, “64 percent were male, 51 percent are 45 years or older, only 32 percent made less than $60K per year” — and, sin of sins, the fans were found to be “59 percent more likely to have played a round of golf in the last year.”
That’s a pretty close description of this group of friends in my fantasy league. It comprises mostly white guys, near or in their 40s, who love their wives and kids, are mostly conservative, and generally have pretty good jobs in various trades ranging from plumber to attack helicopter pilot. And, yeah, most of us play a round of golf here and there, and none of us thinks to ask forgiveness for that.
Until Roger Goodell and the NFL recently signified their devotion to the anti-American mythology promoted by Black Lives Matter and prostrated themselves before its pantheon of privileged heroes such as Colin Kaepernick, football had for decades been something that made us all incredibly happy and was a central feature of our lives each fall. Now it will not be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future, and I seriously doubt that we’re unique.
That should strike fear into the hearts of NFL executives. There is a seismic shift beneath our feet in the world of sports today, and I think most sports fans of a certain age see it clearly, even if the top brass of the NFL cannot.
Most of us longtime fans know that American football wasn’t always the mega-attraction that it is today. Baseball is known as “America’s pastime,” being the most popular sport in America for most of the twentieth century. But its dominance came to be challenged in the 1980s and 1990s, and while the NFL’s popularity did begin to soar in those decades, most people would likely say those decades belonged to the NBA. “Think about it,” writes Michael Schotty at Bleacher Report. “Where Emmitt Smith was a giant, [Larry] Bird was a mountain. Where Jerry Rice was the G.O.A.T, [Michael] Jordan was a god.”
I lived through that moment as a child, and anyone observing the formation, energy, and global dominance of the “Dream Team” assembled for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona would have difficulty arguing against the fact that basketball was “America’s sport” at that time.
But the NFL later overtook the NBA and Major League Baseball in popularity, and that arguably required a few stars aligning. Both the NBA and MLB had highly publicized player strikes in the 1990s, which not only left a sports vacuum to be filled by the NFL, but led to an unpopular narrative about “selfish, money-grabbing” players that was only “amplified by the high-scoring and freestyling play of stars like Allen Iverson,” says Schotty. “Gone were Magic Johnson’s Showtime Lakers, Red’s Celtics, the Bad Boy Pistons and Jordan’s Bulls,” and “the NBA’s importance in American life faded.” And while the home run record saga between Sammy Sosa and Mark Maguire in 1998 did much to help reinvigorate baseball’s popularity, it wasn’t enough to stop the change that was coming.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, the NFL expanded its market to new cities (like Nashville, Jacksonville, and Charlotte) and tweaked the game’s rules to allow for more exciting play. But attention for the sport undoubtedly reached new heights with the advent of fantasy football.
Fantasy football is the perfect marriage of sports and technology and is easily adopted by even the most casual fan. While there is incredible depth to fantasy football, a casual spectator can go online once or twice a week and do the necessary research and adjust the lineup to be successful. No other fantasy sport is so accessible. Fantasy baseball and basketball require far more diligent attention to things like pitching rotations and matchups than the casual fan is willing or able to commit to.
But what’s most important when it comes to how so many American eyeballs became fixated on NFL games is that fantasy football managers select their teams based upon value and availability of players, not personal preference regarding teams. Seemingly overnight, millions of Americans like me began taking an active interest in games they had been only passively interested in before fantasy football and went from maybe watching one game per week to watching several.
For me and undoubtedly millions of other Americans, it all stops now. I refuse to enable these entitled millionaires who subsist on my money and my attention as they attempt to lecture me about how it’s somehow wrong to challenge the ridiculous myth that white cops are out on the streets every night hunting poor black people, or that presumed martyrs like George Floyd were killed by police because of racism when nary a single shred of evidence exists to substantiate such claims, or that millionaires kneeling for the National Anthem in a refusal to “show pride” (those are Colin Kaepernick’s words, not mine) in this nation, which has given those players their wealth and fame, is somehow courageous.
I take no pleasure in declaring any of this. It’s a bitter end to decades in my life in which the NFL and I happily grew together. But where I’m sad to end my relationship with the NFL, Roger Goodell has made it obvious that I’m expendable.
Goodell knows that recent choices will alienate the core fan base. “We’re supporting our players,” he says, continuing, “We look at this as an opportunity to grow our audience with different segments of the population to make sure we’re reaching more people on more platforms.”
Rush Limbaugh translates Goodell’s comments to be an acknowledgement that the NFL is in trouble. Goodell knows, Rush says, that that the NFL has “angered a large segment of the traditional National Football League audience.” And Goodell knows, Rush continues to say, that the NFL is going to “anger them further because [the NFL has] publicly come out in support of kneeling and opposing the American flag.”
If the NFL can just be woke enough, Goodell seems to think, maybe the kids will be prompted to tune in for the political messaging, and maybe they’ll even stick around for the game and take an interest in it. Goodell seems to be imagining a world in which the NFL’s popularity grows by alienating its massive, traditional fan base while seeking to replace that fan base with a younger and more ethnically diverse fan base who didn’t grow up having witnessed the NFL’s marvelous ascension to having become “America’s sport,” and who also have a million other things vying for their attention that haven’t captured mine, such as YouTube, Fortnite, and TikTok.
If the NFL issued stock, managerial decisions this stupid would prompt shareholders to sell at any price.
There is no way out for Goodell. The only viable way out for the NFL, at this point, is to oust Goodell and announce a “Back to Football” campaign to coincide with the receding of the COVID crisis. An announcement centering on national pride and normalcy would be amazingly easy to achieve and wildly popular, and it would maintain the NFL’s position as “America’s sport.”
That is the only thing that might salvage the destruction that Roger Goodell has caused. The NFL’s newfound wokeness under his leadership is unlikely to attract new fans of the game, but a quick pivot to normalcy might halt the current exodus of its traditional fan base. Even still, many fans will never return to watching football, and it seems a foregone conclusion that the NFL will never again be dominant in American life as it once was.