NFL ratings crashed this year.
Fans bailed on the league for many different reasons. Complaints include fans sick of seeing the national anthem disrespected and officials taking over the game by incessantly calling penalties.
For those who spend any time listening to sports talk radio, another kind of disgruntled NFL fan has emerged, ones disgusted by how soft the league has become. These fans want a league where the players hit hard, an old-school kind of football that ultra-physical game players such as Ronnie Lott, Steve Atwater, and Earl Campbell used to play.
According to a Sports Illustrated article, if the political dominoes line up right then the guy who wants old-school football might get his wish. Greg Bishop and Michael McKnight of SI.com completed an in-depth study on the current state of the NFL, largely from the fans perspective. They found that fans want to see the game get back to its smashmouth roots.
The conflict between fans and the league becomes apparent when Bishop and McKnight talk to Roger Goodell about player safety. Goodell tells SI.com, “The fans are more interested in football. We are the ones who make safety a priority. They support that because they want to see their players play. . . . I’d be fooling you if I don’t say: I hear guys that say, Just let them play.”
Therein lies the rub, and as the league restricts the player’s ability to hit, many fans restrict the amount of time they watch football.
This has become a problem for the league, which Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio suggests could result in another football league swooping in to give fans the hits they want to see. Florio explained, “If the league won’t or can’t do it, then maybe someone else will. Someone who would compete with the NFL by embracing the violence and the brutality in the same way that the UFC does, making no apologies for it and ensuring that every participant signs all appropriate paperwork acknowledging in plain terms a warning as bold and as clear as the Surgeon General’s message on every tobacco product that has been sold in the decades since the dull sense that smoking may not be good for you was backed up by actual science.”
If this hypothetical league also banned anthem protests they might really have something. Citing President-elect Donald Trump’s statements about the NFL turning “soft” and rebuking the league for their handling of concussions, Florio speculated that Trump’s words and the fans demand for more hits might tip the scales towards someone starting a rival league.
Florio wrote, “Those attitudes from fans coupled with the messages that invariably will be sent by the incoming Commander-in-Chief suggest that the time may be right for someone to roll the dice with $250 million or so in the hopes of launching a football league that would essentially operate like a modern-day XFL — loud, proud, violent, brutal, bloody, and everything that the NFL was before political, legal, and social sensitivities forced the league to change.
“It’s an experiment that would be interesting to watch unfold, especially since it wouldn’t be my money that would potentially be disappearing in the same way that each dollar invested in every alternative to the NFL since the merger has. All circumstances considered, however, the time may be right for someone to round up any and all willing gladiators and give the silent majority something that will make them cheer loudly.”
Who knows? A little competition could be all the NFL needs.
Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn