The writing has been on the field for a while now, as professional football is not what the people want to watch anymore.
This year’s NBA season has flourished in a myriad of ways. Whether it is the game itself becoming increasingly popular internationally or the league’s players receiving worldwide recognition, the Association is poised to continue its underdog growth into a global force.
Meanwhile, on the other end of that sports spectrum, the NFL continues to be a nexus of struggle.
Thanks to a certain orange-hued ignoramus in the White House, NFL players who protested police brutality and racial injustice because a flashpoint topic. Their aforementioned motivation for protest was subdued (by the NFL Commissioner and its owners) while it falsely became twisted into an alleged protest of the American flag, which just wasn’t the case.
So dedicated was the Far Right to the jig that they talked of boycotting the NFL unless the flag was shown “proper respect”. Ironic, considering a passive boycott was already in effect thanks to the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick with many former NFL fans choosing not to watch until a team signed the free agent quarterback.
#TakeAKnee was actually Kaepernick’s compromise after speaking to an Army veteran about his protest. Kaep’s dedication to the cause has literally terminated his NFL career. Enough so that not many other stars were willing to join him on that front line with their own careers.
A woke quarterback? Can it really be true?
Apparently it must be, as the majority of white NFL owners would rather employ blatantly inferior QB’s (we see you, Jay Cutler) who, despite injury, horrid play and general apathy, still got a gig over Colin. But you shouldn’t be surprised about any of that considering Houston Texans owner Bob McNair equated his team’s players to inmates. It took that (and not Colin’s protest) to get some of these athletes riled up.
On the court though, NBA players are more in step with the culture. In addition to the WNBA, the NBA were the first ones to speak up for the murder of Trayvon Martin, wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts to honor Eric Garner and essentially co-signed ejecting a racist owner (Donald Sterling) out the paint. NBA players are obligated to stand during the national anthem, as per Commissioner Adam Silver, but they’re not as beholden to stay quiet if another case of police brutality or racial injustice hits the national radar.
It didn’t happen, but NFL players were poised to take a hefty bribe—$89 million to be exact—to stop protesting. Thankfully, the players didn’t go for it, but the fact that it was even offered and contemplated by those in charge is very problematic. Since we’ve mentioned the culture, Jay-Z’s take on why he thinks the NBA is more politically active than the NFL in his recent interview with The New York Times was spot on.
“I think because, first of all, it’s smaller numbers. It’s 12 people on a team. In football, you have 53 people, so it’s harder to get 53 people thinking the same thing. It’s easier to have a conversation to get 12 people on the same page. For one. Two, [the NBA has] a great commissioner who is really open. [He] supports them and you feel that. When you have someone behind you that really believes in what’s right, it motivates you to do the right thing.”
In a sports environment where the best basketball player on the planet, LeBron James, called the sitting President of the United States a bum — do you think Adam Silver dared to chastise the superstar for voicing his opinion? Highly doubtful. Maybe it is because the player’s contract are guaranteed, but the NBA athletes are more willing to put their job and those endorsement deals on the line for causes they believe in. That sort of dedication may cost them some racist fans (and burned jerseys), but it inspires legions more to become that much more devoted to their favorite players.
Both leagues feature otherworld athletes, doing superhuman things with their body and creating moments of myth in real time. Any debate of what’s more exciting—a thunderous dunk from Russell Westbrook or a ridiculous one-handed reception from Odell Beckham—is purely subjective. But, on the real, there is no doubting which one is the more dangerous game.
The NFL has to factor in the possibility that its players can very well die on that field. Don’t even go there referencing the late, great Reggie Lewis who died on a basketball court due to a heart condition. It’s not the same. The NFL features elite athletes of substantial strength and weight, hurling themselves at each other at umpteen miles per hour. If a death or maiming doesn’t occur from a freak accident via a sudden impact, it can be years later via CTE. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is the degenerative brain disease that the NFL tried their best not to acknowledge.
Even that isn’t necessarily down the line considering Aaron Hernandez, a convicted murderer who was only a few years out of the NFL, had a brain littered with CTE. More recently, those who still watch football were hushed as Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Lazier was carted off the field with his legs not moving after a spinal injury.
But let’s not get it twisted—the NFL is still the most popular professional sport in the U.S. Even despite The New York Times reports that viewership is trending downward (), 203 million people watched an NFL game in 2o16. Compare that with the NBA’s ratings, which are at their highest since 2011, up 32 percent per Nielsen ratings. If we take into account the NBA’s flourish for better marketing, better games, cleaner players and the fears of parents who don’t want their kids getting hurt then the monolithic grip the NFL has as America’s no. 1 favorite sport is starting to look shaky. Football fans are a dedicated bunch, but many have become disillusioned by the league’s direction, and just aren’t that into it anymore regardless of any political affiliations or leanings.
Lastly, and we’re just being honest here, NBA players have much better signature kicks that the NFL, too.
Alvin “Aqua” Blanco is a Brooklyn, New York based writer who hopes his favorite team—the New York Knicks—really wins the Paul George sweepstakes.