NFL's slide into irrelevance: Explaining the inexplicable

Saturday, 11 November 2017, 04:00:33 AM. There's apparently no single thing that's dragging down the NFL's popularity. Maybe it's just a confluence of a multitude of negative factors surrounding the league.

The court of public opinion will now come to order. Will the defendant please rise?

Sorry, your honor, may I lean? Old injuries. Both knees and an Achilles. And my head hurts.

Please give us your name. As well as any aliases.

The . The NFL. The Shield. The Big Show. America’s Game. 100-yard War. Prime Time Programming.

How do you plead to the indictment?

What’s that? My hearing is not so good either.

To the charges against you. How do you plead?

Please, your honor. May I sit?

You are accused of being unpopular, sir. How do you plead?

Not guilty, your honor. If anything, we plead guilty to being too popular. More people attend our games and watch us on television than any other single entertainment, including the Game of Thrones, the Walking Dead and Rachel Maddow.

You agree that your ratings have gone down.

So has the polar ice cap and we still will be here after it is gone.

You also are accused of being brutal, petty, callous, greedy, politically incorrect, unpatriotic and, I’m afraid, ubiquitous.

Proudly guilty to all of those charges, your honor. Except the unpatriotic thing. After all, we have a team named the . We do not have a team called the Traitors,

You also do have a team called the . Is that not insensitive?

It has been taken that way but we mean it only in the most respectful and non-specific way. The aren’t really Giants and the aren’t really Lions, though, to be honest, the Raiders can be.

And yet your players disrespect the flag and the anthem.

Oh, no. Not disrespect. Honor, your honor. Free speech and all that. We love America and especially those camo caps.

TV ratings are down. You must be doing something wrong.

We are always open to suggestions.

OK. Let’s take violence.

We love violence. It is our brand.

But it is turning your audience off.

Quite the contrary, your honor. No cheer is louder than the one that follows a full force collision between two, or more, well armored warriors running at full speed into each other. Talk about reality TV.

The court has here your own injury report. It lists 393 players with some kind of injury that may keep them out of games, or even out the entire season.

Well, some of those are old injuries and not all of them are starters, so …

Ah, yes. Old injuries. Something called — let me get the proper name — chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. How many players are affected by brain trauma caused by repeated concussions?

We are studying it. Your honor, football is, as someone once said, not a contact sport, but a collision sport. There are no winners, only survivors. Football players know this. They volunteer for this. We pay them quite well for this.

You feel no responsibility?

We try to be as safe as we can be without disturbing the unsafeness of the game. It is the danger that makes it great.

Your game is becoming less popular, both in audience and in participants. You are scaring parents into keeping their children indoors.

Come on, your honor, there are many reasons kids stay indoors. I-pads for instance. Cell phones. Video games. We bet you Super Mario has softened more brains than the Super Bowl.

You are receiving an unprecedented amount of negative news, from the anthem protests to domestic violence to misguided discipline, all of it taking away from your game. Even the president of the United States called you names.

Nothing worse than we call each other.

How do you answer the charge that your games have become too boring.

Poppycock, your honor.

What’s that?

I said poppycock. That means it is impossible for something to be both too disturbing and too boring. Pick one.

How about a typical game?

Unfair, your honor. Yes, the Bears do play classic, constipated football, valuing each yard gained, not all this modern passing down the field stuff. But that only makes each first down more precious. It is all in how you look at it.

And fewer and fewer people are. Guilty. Next case. NASCAR.

Bernie Lincicome is a special contributor to the Chicago Tribune.

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