by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
All the pat talk about the declining ratings of the National Football League glides past one fact: Football is one product with a stratospherically high floor. Even when sales dips for the NFL, business remains great. More than 9 million households watched the Pittsburgh Steelers eke out a win over the Cincinnati Bengals last Monday night, and if a 7.8 rating is relatively tepid for late-season Monday Night Football, in absolute terms it demonstrates that plenty of Americans still love the sport. …
… The important question to ask is not whether the fans who watched Steelers–Bengals were appeased by the lack of sideline anthem protests. It’s whether they could stomach what they saw on the field. Were parents more likely to let their boys try out for Pop Warner next year after watching Juju Smith-Schuster inflict a brain injury on Vontaze Burfict? Ten years ago, Smith-Schuster’s crackback block would have been featured on ESPN’s “Jacked Up” segment, but not anymore. Did viewers feel morally compromised when Ryan Shazier was carted off the field, motionless and hospital-bound, with a spinal-cord injury? Usually, fans wait in earnest for the player to deliver a thumbs-up, but not this time. The problem the NFL — the sport — faces has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with that which inheres in the game. The problem football faces is whether it is too violent to survive.