While concussions are undoubtedly the NFL's top problem, the league has a second massive problem that it needs to eliminate as well: Thursday Night Football.
The league's Thursday games have become a massive source of mainstream derision. Some argue that the players agreed to these games, so they're totally OK. Others argue that Thursday Night Football is the single most hypocritical entity in professional sports.
Those who argue the latter would be right.
How a league can justify dropping five and six-figure fines on players for split-second hits under the guise of concussion safety and also employ a system that puts players' bodies at risk just four days after their previous game goes beyond logical comprehension.
The NFL can try to justify it any way possible. The league can hide behind the fans, blaming you for just wanting too much darned football. Or Roger Goodell can attempt to justify the games by saying every team now gets to play before a national audience, or anything else the league can think of.
It's all a farce and we know it.
The move to Thursday night was 100 percent predicated on money. The league wanted to shove the NFL Network down the gullets of cable providers—particularly Time Warner Cable—while filling up yet another cavernous bucket of money.
Did it work? Of course.
NFL Network and Time Warner came to a deal that put the league-owned venture into an additional 10 million homes, upping the total to 70 million. And with the Thursday games giving more clout to the network among advertisers, the NFL stands to make $200-$247 million this season in ad revenue, according to Ad Week's Anthony Cupri.
That's over double the $99.6 million the league made in ad revenue last year. With ratings for the game skyrocketing, that ad revenue only stands to go up going forward.
Don't get me wrong, I refuse to vilify the chase of money in a free-market society. However, to schedule Thursday games while feigning interest in player's safety is not only hypocritical, it's almost insulting to both the fans and players.
There's a reason football is a once-a-week sport. It's brutal.
Guys literally put their lives on the line on a weekly basis, careening into each other with the force of a Mack Truck simply for our enjoyment and a few million bucks.
It's a sport with inherent risks. Players, fans and coaches all know that. But to put these players' bodies through that rigor twice in four days puts them in unnecessary harm that may not be felt on Friday morning but which will catch up far down the line.
Of course, Goodell would disagree. Here is what he said on Dec. 12, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio:
We don’t have any information that indicates from our data that playing on Thursdays in any way decreases the safety of our players. The injury rates do not indicate that at all over the years. So I think we start with facts, and the facts are that that’s not a risk to the players.
I'm sorry, isn't this entire concussion fiasco about how repeated hits to the head cause long-term damage? Doesn't common sense tell us that doing so in a shorter time fame will only exacerbate the problem?
Well, if that doesn't do the trick for you, perhaps the on-field play will. Just for fun, here are the final scores of every Thursday Night Football game this season:
Packers 23, Bears 10
Giants 36, Panthers 7
Ravens 23, Browns 16
Rams 17, Cardinals 3
Titans 26, Steelers 23
49ers 13, Seahawks 6
Buccaneers 36, Vikings 17
Chargers 31, Chiefs 13
Colts 27 Jaguars 10
Bills 19, Dolphins 14
Falcons 23, Saints 13
Broncos 26, Raiders 13
Bengals 34, Eagles 13
Now, think back. Were there any truly memorable moments that were positive? Did you ever flick the channel and think "man, that was a great game?" Or were you, like me, shaking your head at Drew Brees' five interceptions and holding your breath anytime a player laid on the turf too long?
Think about it. The average Thursday Night Football game was decided by 13.5 points, and only four were decided by one score. Only once did both teams score 20-plus points.
That's not a coincidence. Week 7's San Francisco-Seattle game aside, these weren't hard-nosed defensive struggles. Thursday Night Football was your weekly dose of sloppy football played by ill-prepared players and coaches.
You could almost feel the "let's just get through this" atmosphere seeping through the television.
Instead of realizing that fact, Goodell is going to spend his winter and spring playing the spin machine. He'll hope that we just find something new to complain about and Thursday Night Football will simply be the NFL's latest billion dollar cash cow.
That shouldn't happen. The league should realize what a massive disservice they are doing to the players by putting them in these games and to the fans for feeding them such an inferior product.
With fan and player unrest at an all-time high toward the commissioner, he should realize canceling Thursday Night Football is the perfect way to reingratiate himself with both parties.
Based on his track record, I just have a pretty hard time feeling that he will.
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