The NFL is reeling over the television ratings for Thanksgiving Day. Too many football fans said no thanks.
Viewership was down double digits. The popular explanation was that the league is hemorrhaging fans because of players disrespecting the national anthem and the flag, the most iconic symbols of the republic.
As I visited family members for the holiday, I did notice less interest in football this year than in years past. A couple of middle-aged men told me they love football but are not watching NFL games. “Because of the kneeling. . . . Too many fists in the air . . . They gotta find a better way to protest.“
But even before Colin Kaepernick became known for his controversial demonstration against police shooting too many young black men, the NFL was losing fans for another reason: violence on the gridiron causing serious injury, especially to brains.
Parents are forbidding their kids from suiting up for football. So there’s less interest in watching the sport on television.
The Monday Night Football game between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati could serve as Exhibit A on what’s wrong with pro football.
One of the greatest players, Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, was strapped to a board and carted away after a perfectly legal collision.
He came within an inch or two or a degree or two of destroying his spinal cord.
Two other players, Pittsburgh’s 20-year-old rookie receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Cincy’s veteran safety George Iloka, were each suspended one game for injurious hits that were not legal.
ESPN commentator Jon Gruden, former NFL coach, called Monday night’s game “disgusting and disturbing.”
Many feared that Shazier would join the list of football players paralyzed by spinal injury: Darryl Stingley, Dennis Byrd, Mike Utley, Eric LeGrand, Marc Buoniconti.
You might have thought that after seeing Shazier sprawled motionless on the grass and then carted away, the players would be especially careful to play safe.
Instead, it was the opposite: more violence than ever.
Smith-Schuster appeared to seek vengeance on Burfict, a notorious cheap-shot artist. The rookie receiver delivered a hard crackback block into Burfict. When his victim fell to the ground, Smith-Schuster stood over him, taunting.
In the locker room after the game, as Smith-Schuster was being asked about the incident, Antonio Brown was nearby chanting “kar-ma, kar-ma,” suggesting that the crackback block was appropriate payback for Burfict’s numerous transgressions.
A few minutes after Burfict went down, Ioka delivered a high, hard hit into the back of Brown as he was leaping to catch a pass in the end zone.
Troy Aikman, who like Gruden makes his living commenting on NFL games, tweeted that the Monday game “is hard to watch for a number of reasons . . . terrible for the NFL and the game of football overall.”
LINK to Bryan Armen Graham of The Guardian: ‘Steelers-Bengals brutality a reminder of life-altering is at NFL’s core’
LINK to Bob Hille of the Sporting News on ‘Ryan Shazier injury update: Steelers LB in good spirits after back injury’