There are approximately zero football fans among my office staff these days, and my kids have their own brand of passionate disinterest in the sport. When I called my oldest, a freshman at Appalachian State University, to congratulate his school’s Mountaineers on being named to the NCAA Top 25, he had no clue what I was talking about. They have since dropped to No. 37, something that everyone who gives a damn should already know.
But somebody’s watching the NFL besides me and my wife — who became emotionally invested after last season’s tragic playoff loss to Minnesota — despite the legions of goobers who swore they’d never watch again since the whole take-a-knee thing, the same folks who put duct tape over the swoosh on their Nikes after what was one of the most impactful advertising campaigns this country has seen in a while.
Television ratings are up for the NFL, despite what Trump would have you believe, because it’s a fantastic product, with compelling narratives, tight competitions and more or less unpredictable outcomes. I myself watch NFL games for all those reasons, and also out of habit, allegiance and identity, and because it’s the only sport I have time to follow these days.
Following baseball is like having another job.
I worry about what will happen with football now that it’s become politicized, through the protests touched off by Colin Kaepernick and also the revelation, in 2017, that 99 percent of the men who had played the game at a professional level had chronic traumatic encephalopathy — irreversible brain damage.
My kids aren’t the only ones who don’t care about football. A whole generation of young athletes look to softer sports like soccer, tennis, lacrosse or even baseball to express their talents, leaving the gridiron only to those willing to sacrifice their gray matter to play the game.
It’s important to remember that it is just a game.
And maybe, eventually, the best talent will go elsewhere. And maybe the league will turn into a violent caricature of itself or, perhaps just as bad, a neutered version of two-hand touch.
But we’ve got a spot in Boone for the App State game next weekend, and the Saints are on a six-game winning streak. I’ll think about next season when this one is over.