Growing up in Wisconsin, Packer football is important. So important that Pastor would not only pray for the team from the pulpit but make sure service ended ten minutes early so we could make it home in time for the twelve noon kickoff. But it used to be, that’s where it ended. Other than score checks hoping that the Vikings and Bears were losing, we would do other things than watch football for the rest of the day.
When I went to college a whole new phenomenon occurred – Fantasy Football. While Fantasy Football was around for years before it became popular in 2009, it has transformed how Americans watch professional football. Approximately 33 million people manage at least one fantasy team and 55% of managers watch more NFL football as a result. Many managers watch games all day long to track how their players are performing, an obsession that is best demonstrated through the humorous FX show “The League.” Websites that provide fantasy services receive four times as many page views as sports pages that do not provide these services and have consequently routed $2 to $5 billion in advertising through their sites. Not bad for a seasonal hobby.
The biggest winner – the NFL. Since Fantasy Football became mainstream, 59% of Americans regularly follow the NFL (up from 47%), and followers watch more games, purchase more merchandise, and are more likely to subscribe to mobile apps. The NFL ratings rise each season – outperforming any other televised program.
Let’s start with a fundamental point: the NFL is here to stay. Yes, there are serious discussions that need to be had about safety – both for the players and those around them – but if we learned anything from Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, it is that the NFL is the true American pastime. While 15% of both men and women said that they were less likely to watch football following the release of the Ray Rice video, only 8% of fans actually changed their viewing habits in protest. By now, viewers seem to have entirely forgotten. In fact, the Steelers-Ravens (Rice’s team) game earlier this month drew the record number of Thursday night views of any program since 2006.
We as the American public are not appalled enough by the violence to stop watching. We as the American public seem unwilling to take the steps needed to make the NFL reform how reports of domestic violence are internally handled. So lets try to find a way to support those players who are positive role models for kids, who give back to their communities and take steps to protect their safety. More importantly, lets use Ray Rice as a dinnertime discussion tool, is it alright to hit a girl? Is it alright to hit anyone? Then use Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers – is volunteering something you should do? Why?
While the NFL does not escape responsibility and I am frustrated and disappointed at the way the situation has been handled; the onus is on us to have these conversations and teach one another what is socially acceptable. This is a parent, teacher, friend’s responsibility – not a padded man on the television’s.