Another season of NFL football is upon us, that time of the year when our collective consciousness shifts away from the pews and pulpits to the sanctuary of the sofa. Where the term Hail Mary has an entirely different connotation and Saints and sacks are venerated equally. Football’s popularity is truly Biblical in proportion and for many, therein lies the trepidation and concern.
In 2014 the violence on the field is still very much a part of the appeal but the handling of the violence off the field has brought the integrity of the league into question. As the most popular sport in the U.S. the NFL has a significant standard to uphold, one that should include zero tolerance for domestic violence. Roger Goodell’s handling of the Ray Rice situation damaged the trust between fans and the NFL. The Commissioner’s recent decision to apply stricter punishments moving forward to players and team personnel involved in domestic violence is a clear indication and acknowledgment of a past mistake and lapse in ethical leadership.
But has the damage already been done? Has the brutality and hubris of the NFL finally caught up to them? There were many fans this summer who threatened to swear off football if the league didn’t change its ways. For those people the ultimate tests arrives this Thursday night on NBC as the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks welcome the Green Bay Packers to town in what should be a television ratings bonanza. Will enough households not watch for the NFL and its advertisers to take notice or will The Shield weather this latest wave of criticism like it did the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin hazing situation or the ongoing concussion lawsuits?
In all likelihood, the popularity of the sport, at least on television, marches forward and while the league still needs to deal with other pressing concerns like stagnant stadium attendance and dwindling participation at youth levels, fans will continue to flock to bars and basements to watch the carnage unfold because if there’s one sport that can recover from the obtuse mishandling of the Ray Rice situation it’s the NFL, a league now so synonymous with Sunday that in many parts of the country snap counts have replaced sermons as the ultimate form of repentance.
Long ago football and the NFL figured out that their sport is as much about community as it is anything else. Friends love to gather together to cheer on their favorite teams and players. That socialization, that fraternization, cannot be easily replaced or manufactured which is why football remains king of the field, court and pitch.
So like it or not, and unless television screens across the country remain dark, football as our national pastime is here to stay.