People often forget the reason why we watch sports: it’s entertainment. We, the people, consume the product that is the games we watch; because of this commodification of the game, we often forget the fact that real people are putting their bodies and mind on the line for us, causing us to often disregard those who are impacted by the sport. This is a problem that spans all of sports; however, in recent years this problem has been greatly featured within the NFL.

The NFL has been expanding its media empire by infiltrating news networks everywhere with the type of attention grabbing headlines that would make TMZ editors blush: “Billionaire owner calls wife-beater a great leader”; “Every retired player to receive $5 Million(!?!) for treatment of repeated brain trauma.” If I were to keep listing headlines I’d probably make myself  not want to watch football, but unfortunately this is the reality that the league faces. In today’s NFL, absolutely everything becomes a storyline, as if the season is just a chapter in a running book. Now, making sports into a storyline isn’t inherently a bad thing, one can look at all the great rivalries to see where storytelling is implemented correctly, but watching a young, talented quarterback slowly succumbing to alcoholism is not something I want to follow. Per that example, why couldn’t the NFL (or the team for that matter) truly step in and try to help this person, rather than just capitalizing on his shortcomings? The answer is quite obvious, those negative headlines make the league more money.

In today’s NFL, a blown call means one team must have personal vendetta against its opponent, a receiver gets a little too intense on the field and all of a sudden he’s the biggest diva in the league, a future draft pick gets caught with an inconsequential amount of marijuana and he becomes as red-flag riddled athlete on a downward spiral–notice a trend here? Sure, one could place blame on media outlet that give these stories traction, but another major source of this issue flies right under the fans’ noses: the announcers. Everyone has that one (or many) announcers who they hate, their analysis of the game is all wrong, their biases show, or they just don’t have an accurate clue on what’s going on. On the surface, this does not appear to be too big of an issue as people are able to have their own opinion on issue; however, this analysis is coming from the (alleged) experts, so why would anyone doubt it? One incorrect judgement could wreak all kinds of havoc in the NFL. An announcer has the power to rile up a fanbase by disagreeing with a simple call on the field, because in such a hypothetical, rather than a team not having a play go its way, now this team got robbed of a call. It is the accumulation of these little mistakes that form rivalries, which, as you can guess, makes the NFL more money. I am not saying that announcers are necessarily a bad thing, as many people have made genuine careers and lasting memories from the field, but having announcers without audience awareness of the actual role of the job is quite harmful.

Returning back to field, the NFL has profiting off players for not only their ability on the field, but their tendencies off the field. I am sure written somewhere in the hallows of the NFL head office there is this sentence written in bold, gold letters, “Characters make more money.” Sure, people love to watch Cam Newton throw a pretty touchdown ball, but what they really came to see was whatever celebration he has saved for the moment the ball crosses the plane. Whether it is that this type of characterization makes the players more interesting, more likable, or more relatable. But, the effect will always be the same: the media creates this hyperbolic version of a person, then they exploit it. Recent examples include Richard Sherman being an egregious a-hole even though he’s the furthest from it, Marshawn Lynch being some sort of psychotic recluse that you’ll only ever see after he has ran over on the field, or the entire Patriots organization being painted as cheaters because no one can match their supremacy. These over-amplified characters are still people like you and I, the only difference is that their work is on the world’s stage. Any sane person would be driven mad if the world characterized them in the fashion the NFL does to its players. Yet, simply because we do not know this feeling nor even see it occurring, the NFL is allowed to keep propagating this type of slander profiteering.

Something people do not understand is that their money and viewership has power; by consuming all of the tabloid-esque drama people are supporting it, saying that, “yes, this is worth my time and money.” Athletes have been fighting for their rights as players in an organization, and without a doubt they have been able to gain many rights. However, their power is no match to that of the viewer (and his/her dollar). It is on the regular consumer to say, “I am fed up with all the crap that this entertainment entity is putting the players through and feeding me.” To the football fans who enjoy this type of drama, you should probably just find some reality show to watch, it will be able to deliver all the scripted drama you could ever want without actually harming the people involved. Again, these are real people going through real difficulties in their lives, but we just allow the NFL to sensationalize it to the point where consumers just lump it together with the fake news Hollywood entertainment shows spew. For the fans of football who want to see the sport unadulterated, it is time that we let the league know that we no longer want all the extravagant tales of mistakes, nor support of villains, nor dehumanization of athletes.

The people have the ability to change the media that we subscribe to, and now is the time we use it.

Image: Washington Post