More of a fan's lament
Last October, I wrote about the difficulty I was having justifying my continued fandom of the NFL, specifically the New York Giants, a team I have rooted for as long as I can remember, just as my father has rooted for them as long as he can remember. The Giants are one of a handful of what I call “diamond” organizations in the NFL. The Cardinals and Bears are the only original teams still in existence (1919), Green Bay is the longest running franchise attached to one location (1921 - The Bears weren’t the Bears yet). As with Green Bay, there are Giants fans who are third and fourth generation season ticket holders, and like the Steelers and the Packers, the Giants are steadily, successfully and without much turbulence considered one of the classiest operations in the sport. They are the only team remaining of the four that joined in 1925 and remain the oldest franchise based in the northeast.
The Cowboys are more beloved but filled with year-in-year-out drama, while the Patriots’ have only been truly successful for 15 years and are regularly marred by scandal (both real and imagined). The 49ers had amazing runs in the 80s and 90s but are otherwise unremarkable, while the Chiefs, Steelers, Raiders and Packers have arguably the most passionate fans.
In general, the Giants are regarded as a founding franchise along with the Bears, Braves nee Redskins, Packers and the now defunct trio of Portsmouth Spartans, Staten Island Stapletons and Brooklyn Dodgers. The current waiting list for Giants season tickets is 135,000 deep, the largest of any sports franchise in the world.
The Giants are co-owned by John Mara (the family is probably best known outside the NFL for the acting sisters Rooney and Kate, nieces of John Mara and daughters of Pete, who is the head of football operations for the team) and Steve Tisch. They’ve won 4 Super Bowls (with one loss, to Baltimore of all teams) and four NFL titles in the pre-Super Bowl era. So much history has flowed through the organization its difficult to comprehend. Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry were assistants on the Giants incredible teams of the 1950s, Bill Belichick was Bill Parcells’ defensive coordinator for two Super Bowl wins and has won five more with the Patriots, and in 1958 the Giants fell to the Colts in what is commonly referred to as “the greatest game ever played,” and the only game that was more important in NFL history was the Jets Super Bowl III win. Between those four men there are 13 Super Bowl rings (11 as heads and two for Bilichick as Parcells’ assistant). Between just those four men and their teams, and adding for the 49ers and Steelers, that represents half of nearly all the Super Bowls won in its 52 year history.
So, I know all that and a whole lot more, I’ve been to Canton and toured the Hall of Fame, and I’ve watched every Super Bowl since number 16 (Niners beat the Bengals and Joe Montana’s legend grew from there) and watched the Giants win their first while fighting the flue at the nice age of 12. When I watch a film like Silver Linings Playbook, I caught not because it’s funny but because how much their love the Eagles is like my family’s love for the Giants.
Ergo, why am I and a lot of other people who are strong of fans as I am - my parents included - not watching the Super Bowl today, this most American of unofficial holidays?
I have never been okay with the kneeling and the fists-raised protests. If Roger Goodell had snuffed this out in the first week of the 2015 season, his League - my League - wouldn’t be bleeding viewers and fans. I boycotted last season until the Playoffs, where the Giants finally returned after three disastrous seasons and were prominently beaten by the Packers. Given how much my father and I enjoy talking about the Giants and the NFL in general, I didn’t want to boycott another season, so I watched my Giants stumble to their most embarrassing season since the 1970s, the rock-steady franchise firing its head coach and GM in the middle of the season, something as un-Giant-like as it gets.
It does not help that two of my least-favorite teams (Patriots and the hated Eagles) are playing today, but that’s not why I’m not watching. As if the kneeling business started bad and has grown much worse, the NFL curiously declined an ad from the veterans group AMVETS. In the Washington Examiner, Rep. Luke Messer writes:
AMVETS recently submitted a powerful Super Bowl ad to the NFL asking the country to stand for our National Anthem. It depicts a veteran holding the American Flag with the words #PleaseStand.
But the NFL is refusing to run it. This is a giant mistake — for the league, the sport and our country.
In a move that surprises no one, League commish Roger Goodell defended the move, claiming they don’t allow for politicking in NFL ads. The ad in question showed a veteran saluting the flag and the hashtag #pleasestand - that’s it, and it was rejected.
There are many problems with Goodell’s progressive view of America and the NFL, but I’ll start with the obvious: standing for the national anthem is not a political act, it is an act of communal respect for, among other things, how blessed we are to live in this country. When you stand for the flag, whether you put your hand on your heart, you salute or you do as I do and put your hands behind your back, you are taking part in an act of civic communion - standing for the anthem is not the province of liberals or conservatives or veterans or pessimists, it is a sign of respect and at sporting events, a recognition that we can leave politics and petty arguments for another day while enjoying a three-hour escape.
What is so vexing about this “protest” is its total lack of self-awareness as how much offense is being caused and how much hard-earned goodwill the NFL has built over the last century is being destroyed, one kneeler at a time.
My objection to American progressivism in the 21st century is that everything is politicized, including the civic and civil act of standing for the anthem. The conservative pundit Erik Erikson has a saying that is astonishing in its brutal, truthful totality: you will be made to care. Or, the way I’ve thought of it for some time: by not choosing a side in this increasingly-hostile war for the soul of American culture, not choosing to take a stand is an automatic statement of support for the left side that has been making its long march through our institutions. They own the Leviathan, much of the court system, the schools, the media, Hollywood and now they are taken our football and turned it into something miserable.
Goodell has no problem with players insulting the cultural sensitivities of at least half its fans, to say nothing of so many people who defend the country. The claim of free speech is bollocks - free speech applies to government action, no private commerce. I work for a publicly-held company and if the actions of me and a few of my co-workers resulted in a 20 percent drop in our customer base, you can damn well believe that we’d all be fired.
Added to this, Goodell states that the NFL supports veterans and veteran groups, and today at the Super Bowl 15 Medal of Honor recipients will be honored. Goodell forgot to mention that all that pregame hoopla, the huge flags, the veterans, the whole bloody show is bought and paid for by the military ie the taxpayers, a scandal that the sports media has done its best to bury.
The NFL used to be my favorite sporting League and like many men and women across the country, we were just fine with it, even the ever-nagging labor disputes that have resulted in two strikes in my lifetime. I noticed the change in the League beginning with the prominence that Fantasy Football began to play in sports talk, then sports TV, then actual gamecasts, CBS being the worse offender.
Then there were little sermons Bob Costas started giving during halftime of Sunday Night Football, pious piles of virtue-signalling dung that was about as enlightening to informed people on either side of the political spectrum as a Virginia ham. Rush Limbaugh lasted less than a month on ESPN’s NFL show even though his critique was not of a black man, but the media who covered him, to say nothing of how the possible inclusion Limbaugh in the group that was set to buy the Rams sunk the deal before it could ever be put to paper.
Again, this is the most-listened to radio host in American with a cumulative audience of nearly 30 million people each week, and I’ll hazard a guess and say that most of that audience used to be fans of the NFL, just as Limbaugh has for years given free advertising to the League by talking about it so regularly during the season - the only non-political topic that Limbaugh digs on more than the NFL is his love of all things Apple.
Al Michaels is literally the only thing remotely, genuinely conservative about what used to be the most traditionally conservative sports league in the world, and Michaels has stuck around only because he is the best play-by-play man in the business, and unlike Costas he doesn’t feel the need to jam his politics down the throats of the audience
Barbara Mandrell famously sang that she was country when country wasn’t cool, and I identify insomuch as I’ve always been an NFL fan in a state that lives and dies by college and to a slightly lesser extent high school football (that would be Oklahoma - I live smack in the middle of Stillwater, the Boone Pickens Stadium being all of five blocks from my home). I watched the draft for years and years when it was a novelty, just as I watch far too much of the NFL combine drills when they’re on.
No more. I haven’t made up my mind about next season yet, but I’m not watching the Super Bowl and I’ve lost interest in the NFL. I’d rather watch English and German futbol, Six Nations rugby, the Olympics, the World Cup, the X Games and many other sports that aren’t in the American mainstream but are growing in popularity because American men conditioned since childhood to watch footballl on the weekend for a third of the year but who can no longer stomach the agitprop that the NFL has become still need something sporting to watch.
The Olympics can’t get here fast enough and the NFL is the sports world’s version of a dead man walking. The League finally gave up its absurd tax exemption in 2015 after the optics of Ray Rice multiplied with the idea of Roger Goodell making $40 million a year as the head of a League that brings in $14 billion annually from TV contracts alone was too much for even them to justify. Goodell is the personification of the rage fans are growing toward the League - he is annually, mercilessly booed at the NFL Draft, something that never happened to Paul Tagliabue or Pete Rozell, the men primarily responsible for growing the NFL into the biggest sports league in the world, even though the sports is really only played seriously in the USA and Canada.
The remaining NFL fans, and there are millions of them, should enjoy it while it lasts. The NFL’s recent habit of pissing on fans while telling them it’s raining is growing old, and the league’s plunging viewership is getting difficult to justify.