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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Under the Lights: Violent ends

Worry and consternation have surely been flying around the NFL's New York City office throughout the last month over a problem once considered unthinkable: NFL television ratings are down. Yes, you read that right. After decades of dominating Sunday's (and Monday’s and Thursday’s and, yes, sometimes Saturday’s) TV landscape, the NFL is facing a steep viewership plunge for the first time this century. Ratings for games on each major NFL night of the week are down anywhere from 18 to 24 percent, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

Theorists have chalked up the decline to a myriad of recent developments ranging from ramped up coverage of the presidential election to viewers boycotting games because of the widely-discussed league-wide national anthem protests led by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Dismissing the decline in ratings as a product of short-term, ephemeral issues, however, glosses over the more probable and likely more devastating explanation for the sudden decrease in popularity.

Understanding the decline in ratings requires an understanding of the fundamental principle that the game of tackle football is based upon: violence. Brutality has been the common denominator of the game’s evolution from an all-running sport to the eventual introduction of the forward pass through to the modern era.

The bone-rattling hits that bring spectators to their feet every Sunday are the same ones that lead to ex-players under the age of 50 suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s and joint and ligament damage en masse. A recent Boston University study showed that signs of the brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) was found in 96 percent of the former NFL players studied. One of the players found to have the disease was former linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012 at just 43 years of age.

Those same themes of violence have extended off the field and into the domestic sphere in recent years. Widespread video footage of then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching, knocking out and dragging his then-fiancé out of an Atlantic City elevator both shined a light on a serious issue that had plagued the league before to the public and exposed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s incompetence in showing nothing resembling compassion or rational judgement in his subsequent minor suspension of Rice. Subsequent cases involving players Greg Hardy, who allegedly threw his wife onto a couch littered with guns in his domestic abuse case, and Josh Brown, who was allowed to remain on the New York Giants’ roster just this season even after the revelation that he had confessed to having abused his wife, came to light. Brown was eventually cut by the Giants.

Time and time again, the NFL has ignored and enabled serious, life-altering damage to both its own players and their families and spouses. And now, the NFL’s chickens are coming home to roost. The league’s seemingly sudden drop in popularity isn’t so sudden at all to those who have been paying attention. It’s simply retribution for years of intolerable incompetence, and fans are finally starting to catch on.