GIVING THE FANS WHAT YOU’VE LED THEM TO EXPECT
Shortly after the merger with the AFL, the onset of the Super Bowl era, the NFL found a magic elixir that moved it past baseball as America’s favorite sport. While baseball did itself no favors by beginning a love affair with post season games that started so late no school boy, the heart of the next generation of fans, could see the end of the most important games of the year, the NFL stumbled onto the key ingredient that would draw the testosterone driven 20 and 30-something male population to their games in ever increasing numbers.
While offering games kids could watch, most of their schedule played on Sunday afternoons, the NFL brought into living rooms nationwide that gladiator aspect of head to head combat and body crunching blows that fueled the instincts of the audience it most coveted. There were early indications of the lengths to which the NFL was willing to go to heighten the influence of that aspect of the game, made aware to anyone who was willing to listen to the warnings of Lyle Alzado prior to his untimely death in 1992, attributed in great part to the use of steroids as a means of keeping up with those competing for his job.
“Intelligent ignorance” is as good a way as any to describe the reaction of the NFL, look the other way, avoid accountability. The culture of violence in the NFL took root and flourished until new measures of enhancing the experience had to be found to deal with the consequences.
Anyone who believes men of behemoth proportions colliding with other men of behemoth proportions at ever increasing speeds won’t lead to an increasing number of devestating injuries can be sold just about any bill of goods. Enter the NFL players, many of whom now say they bought that bill of goods to the point they didn’t realize themselves they were suffering from injuries that included broken bones, in one case a broken neck, often playing full seasons with such injuries, according to the newest charge, while the league hid those injuries from them by masking the pain with illegal and risky drugs and pain killers.
Already facing a class action lawsuit filed by former players who allege they were misdiagnosed or mal treated for concussions that has yet to be finalized and could top one billion dollars, the NFL is now confronted with what could be a much more devestating litigation. While eight players, including former Bears Super Bowl quarterback Jim McMahon, who claims to have played a full season with a broken neck, and Bears Hall of Fame defensive end Jim Dent, have stepped forward as the plaintiffs in the latest action, their attorneys say more than 500 players are involved and they expect this to become a class action suit against the NFL.
The violent nature of the sport has been on display since the early 60’s, when CBS’ “The Twentieth Century”, miked Giants linebacker Sam Huff, but the extremes to which it has been allowed to accelerate before the blind eyes of the league and it’s owners while the testosterone generation spins the turnstiles and buys the products in record numbers, is the monster of the league’s own creation that can now destroy it.
The money the lawsuits will cost the NFL may be the least of it’s problems. The league has to deal with the issue at the heart of the lawsuits, the violence it has allowed to accelerate while ignoring the results. After weining a generation that annually expects the hitting to get harder and the size and speed of the game to accelerate, the NFL is going to have to tone down it’s product. The league may not be able to survive such a move. The generation of fans it has created may not be willing to take a step back and continue to support the NFL at the dollar level it does now. A less violent culture in the NFL may lead to less interest among it’s fans.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.