Watching professional football really sucks this year. It’s not just that the National Football League is a money-sucking leech that spends most of its time pandering to corporate sponsors, penalizing celebrations and suspending players longer for smoking weed than beating up their girlfriends. No, that’s basically the NFL every year. But somehow, 2016 feels even less fun.
I hadn’t quite been able to put my finger on why I’m not enjoying things the way I used to, so I decided to take a look at the league’s primetime schedule for the season. A short glimpse at the lineup revealed the fact that the Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, almost-St.-Louis-but-actually-Los-Angeles Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers all headlined major, nationally televised evening games this season. The only thing that these teams have in common is that they’re all absolutely terrible. The Browns, sitting at 0–12 as I write this, might actually be historically terrible, so at the very least that game may have been worth seeing for posterity’s sake.
NFL leadership, scheduling teams like these to play in primetime, is somehow still baffled as to why ratings have dropped this season. But the league’s authority figures aren’t exactly known for their insightfulness, so don’t read too much into that.
The No Fun League isn’t just more annoying in 2016 because I’ve had to watch Case Keenum quarterback a Monday Night Football game, or because the Dallas Cowboys, owned by aging Rick Perry donor Jerry Jones, are actually good. Instead, it seems as if the league has made unprecedented efforts to remove every element of individuality and creativity from the game of football.
Take the league’s increasingly harsh stance on touchdown celebrations as an example. Gone are the days of Chad Johnson’s ridiculous end zone dances and Terrell Owens’ popcorn-pouring antics. Instead, players are assessed a 15-yard penalty for so much as breathing a little too excitedly after scoring. Cutting down on player celebrations doesn’t just make the game less fun for athletes; it takes away a much-needed spectacle of individuality in a sport where even players’ faces are hidden.
Frankly, the NFL may be its own worst enemy. It’s difficult to enjoy the game of football knowing that its rulebook becomes cloudier each game, its refereeing is spotty and inconsistent and that even if we manage to go through a week without some sort of horrendous snafu, there’s a good chance half of your fantasy team will wind up with concussions. Roger Goodell is a terrible commissioner, the league still can’t come up with a coherent policy on drug use, and I am yet to see the NFL handle a single domestic violence case with any degree of basic human decency.
If you couple all that with the relatively poor quality of play this year, you’ve got a recipe for a season-long snorefest.
However, what continues to befuddle me is the fact that watching games with other NFL fans somehow makes it even worse. If, by some miracle, you happen upon another football fan at Yale, there’s an 80 percent chance that they root for some insufferable team like the Patriots or Seahawks and a 50 percent chance that they have precisely zero knowledge about their team prior to about 2014, when they saw a jersey they liked at Sears. As a fan of the Washington professional football team, I have come across about three other people who shared my allegiances and about eight people with whom I might enjoyably take in four hours of Budweiser ads with a football game sprinkled in between.
If NFL players are to go onto the field and risk their personal safety every week for the sake of our entertainment, one would hope that the spectacle produced might at least be interesting. But instead of putting back beers and screaming at a television, I’ve taken to watching my hometown club in 240p on sketchy Serbian live streams while I do homework.
As things stand, NFL football is boring, professional orange guy Donald Trump won a presidential election, and we’re perilously close to the start of finals. But hey, at least we beat Harvard. Call me when 2016 is over.