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Are Americans Turning Their Backs on the NFL?

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The Washington Post has spilled a considerable amount of ink recently in covering the NFL. In Sally Jenkins's latest column, she argues, "the NFL is becoming more disturbing than appealing, and TV viewers are tuning out." In another, Kent Babb and Steven Rich write about the NFL's "quietly escalating" problem with fan violence, which often leads to severe injuries and assault charges. In a third, Jenkins tackles NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for suspending New York Giants kicker Josh Brown just one game following a domestic violence charge. Tom Brady, on the other hand, got a four-game suspension "over the amount of air in a football."

Is the NFL facing an existential crisis?

In all this coverage, the Post seems to point to an existential crisis within the NFL. The NFL's existential crisis - the point at which we begin to question its value and purpose - has come from a number of directions. Two of these are concussions and fan violence.

Concussions

At the top of the list is the problem with concussions. As we've documented before, American football can be particularly injurious to the brains of adults. Even children playing peewee football are at risk. But perhaps the worst news is evidence that the NFL downplayed the risks of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a progressive and degenerative brain disease that may occur from repeated concussions.

Fan violence

Next up is fan violence, occurring inside stadiums and in the parking lots of stadiums, often between fans of rival teams. The Post does a good job documenting the number of arrests that occur at NFL games. Girardi | Keese partner David R. Lira has personally handled some of these cases; in 2015, he was named a Top Plaintiff Lawyer in the Daily Journal (PDF link) for his work in securing a multimillion-dollar award for his client, a Giants fan, who was beaten in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium.

End result: Decline in TV ratings

The result of all these issues might be the worst possible thing for a game that has historically drawn millions of U.S. viewers: declining television ratings.

In the words of online commenter "TheNorthWing" to a Post article:

  • I used to be a casual viewer, but the league's lack of sincere effort on concussions and spousal abuse have turned me off entirely, and I just don't watch anymore.

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