Why It’s Getting Harder to Watch the NFL
One of the most quoted routines of the late George Carlin was his explication of the differences between football and baseball. “Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting, and unnecessary roughness. Baseball has the sacrifice.” I always think about that routine when each sport is beginning to stretch its legs to prepare for the start of a new season. Baseball’s spring training is all about the smell of freshly cut grass, about renewal, about being eternally young, about hope. Football’s training camp is about fighting for your right to exist, about weeding out the weak, about grueling two-a-days, about a boot camp where you’re expected to run until you puke and then get back up and run some more. It is about destroying yourself in order to live.
So much of the enjoyment of football is tied up in this notion of self-immolation: The sport doesn’t really work without it. The players, outside of the glamour positions on offense, are essentially anonymous and interchangeable. Player careers are so short—and NFL franchise rules make it so easy for them to be cut with no penalty—that most franchises don’t even have a signature star longer than a year or two. Fantasy football is so simple and easy to play that you can consider yourself a huge NFL fan but only know the names of about 8 percent of the players. Everyone covers their faces with masks, for crying out loud. The actual men who play the games are almost tangential to the experience: It is all about Team and Any Given Sunday and the National Football League. The NFL is about order, the organization over the individual. It is faux-military at its very essence.