You had one job! pic.twitter.com/vUwq3Mc0cj
— You Had One Job (@_youhadonejob1) February 4, 2018
David Roth, in the Baffler — “Downward Spiral”:
… The NFL is financially healthy and also pretty luridly out of its mind, increasingly given to grandiose delusion and stubborn denial and spasms of executive sadism. And lately, it’s declining—in ways that are obvious for even casual viewers and evident during an average Sunday’s slate of games and in ways that the league might not fully feel for generations.
It’s America’s game all right, and if the NFL is sick, if it is even perhaps dying, it is for the most American of reasons—because it is increasingly ragged and rotten with corruption, and because it can’t quite come up with any other way that it would rather be…
Rich television deals ensure that profitability is locked in for the foreseeable future, and ratings are only slightly off their old Olympian standard. But the NFL currently feels very much like a league in decline—the league seems in a real way to have lost interest in football, or in trying to stop the league’s broader skid. There are and will always be bad teams, but the NFL in 2017 is remarkable for the number of teams that appear not even to be trying to compete. This includes not just teams embarking on variously forward-thinking tank schemes to gain advantageous position in upcoming drafts, or the roughly equal number of teams that are plainly institutionally incompetent. The ones that stand out most dramatically are those that are plainly not trying to do anything but bump along the bottoms of their divisions and collect their share of the $39.6 billion in television revenues that the league’s thirty-two teams will divide between 2014 and 2022.
Fans will put up with a lot, but such overt and unapologetic indifference is an insult that’s hard to ignore. The NFL has always prioritized the profits of the men who own the league’s teams above any other end and has only rarely bothered to conceal that fact. In its simultaneously sincere and delirious self-performance, the NFL rhymes perfectly both with our Trump-y moment and the man himself, from its valorizing of not just money but greed, its blank devotion to bigness, its endless capacity to take offense at every outrage against itself, by “anti-football” doctors revealing the damage the game does to the people who play it, to the kneeling Kaepernick. It makes sense that Trump once owned a football team of his own, the New Jersey Generals of the short-lived USFL; it’s a nice Trumpian touch that the USFL only realized a modest financial return when Trump and his fellow team owners negotiated a buyout at the expense of their far richer NFL counterparts. That the same NFL owners who donated more than any other sports executives to Trump’s inauguration celebration, according to FEC filings, recoil righteously from Kaepernick vulgarly “politicizing” their American Sunday tradition is, mostly, unsurprising. That Trump, in a characteristically beefy ad-lib at a late-September rally for Alabama Senator Luther Strange, said he would “love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired,’” was, in retrospect, probably inevitable. That he kept mashing away at that (popular) sentiment whenever his poll numbers turned down in the months afterward spoke not just to Trump’s well-documented animal shamelessness but also to the risks of the NFL’s long, strange campaign against its players.
It’s not quite sufficient to say that the NFL is an owners’ league. It absolutely is, in the sense that every decision the league makes is made to advance the financial interests and flatter the various vanities of the owners. But, on a more mundane level, the league’s current deemphasizing of the game of football in favor of oafish executive theater—the protean expansion of the league’s metastatic rulebook, the endless rounds of stern but vague disciplinary action that issue from the commissioner’s office—is more than the owners dictating the way that their sport is overseen and organized. It is the owners making the league more explicitly about them: not just what they want, but what they do.
From a fan’s perspective, this is a bad choice for a bunch of reasons, starting with the fact that the people playing football in today’s NFL are stronger and faster than any people who have ever played the game before and that the owners are interchangeable soft pink guys whiffing on high-fives in their luxury boxes. Those are the bosses, though, and so the league’s appeal to fans is increasingly less about strength than power—less about the physical geniuses tossing or catching forty-yard lasers than the proper management and, where necessary, punishment of those players. The fantasy the league sells is less about the vicarious experience of a superhuman specimen like Odell Beckham Jr. than the vicarious experience of controlling such a specimen—whether on a fantasy team or through taking a hard line in real-world salary negotiations.
It’s possible to see this collective will-to-power as part of a slick and subtle bit of anti-labor propagandizing on the part of a caste whose most deeply held ideal has always been paying players as little as possible. But it’s just as easy to see it as a simple failure of imagination by rich men who have come to believe that they are more important and more interesting than the strange, violent, astonishing game on which this is all leveraged. Again, you may detect a Trumpian echo to all this…
White House statement on the Super Bowl: Remember our troops. pic.twitter.com/wofJfk61t0
— Leo Shane III (@LeoShane) February 4, 2018
I remember La David Johnson and his family. Fuk Donald Trump. https://t.co/LWwHD9popE
— BWD ?? You People Replaced Obama With This (@IrisRimon) February 4, 2018
The Super Bowl has zero to do with the troops. The National Anthem is not about the troops. The protests are not about the troops. The military is there to shield you from foreign armies, not your bad political decisions. https://t.co/l8fAfRDlMh
— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 4, 2018