When people make a vague, sweeping statement that they know is supported by little logic, they’ll follow it up with a qualifier that seems to remove blame.

Usually it’ll be said with a shrug or a smirk, as if it’s not meant to be taken seriously. But the speaker wants you to register their qualifier as a dismissal of all the proven facts and numbers that refute his argument, facts that he knows very well.

After making his case he may say “I can’t justify that because the numbers say otherwise, but I guess time will tell,” which is exactly what Troy Aikman said recently while he mused about the decline of the NFL’s popularity. That classic feeble cop out came after Aikman questioned the NFL’s long-term position as the unquestioned kingpin of North American sports during a forum in Los Angeles.

Head injuries have become a problem, and consequently an increased focus, with player safety the primary driver behind new rules and regulations. For Aikman, that increased injury risk will lead to a generation of parents who are apprehensive about encouraging their kids to pursue football, which could steer youth sports in a different direction. His ultimate fear then is based in fear itself, with a societal shift in the attitude towards football dictating a generational change in what athletic activity is viewed as America’s favorite sport, and maybe baseball will overtake football.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Aikman does not have a son, but said, “if I did, I wouldn’t tell him he couldn’t play football. If he wanted to, I would say ‘OK, great.’ But I don’t know if I would be encouraging him to play. Whereas, with the other sports, you want your kids to be active and doing those types of things.”

Beyond the health implications, Aikman also said that the steady increase in prime-time NFL games during the regular season will gradually saturate the market, stripping those marquee games of their novelty appeal.

“At one time, watching football was an event,” Aikman said. “Monday Night Football was a big event. Now you get football Sunday, you get it Monday, you get it Thursday and, late in the year, you get it on Saturday.”

It’s all pretty heavy philosophical stuff for a guy who makes his living talking about football, and can likely still have any bar to himself in the entire state of Texas because of football. The first problem is those pesky numbers.

The sustained and record-breaking popularity of the Super Bowl isn’t just a colossal number that can be dismissed because of the spectacle and hype surrounding the game. With an estimated 111.3 million tuning in, this year’s Super Bowl was the third straight championship game to become the most-watched television show in history.

The Super Bowl’s success also extended beyond American borders, as Canada saw a 12 percent increase in viewership this year, and the Giants’ win was the most watched Super Bowl in Canadian history.

Then there’s the power of Tebow, which thoroughly demonstrated how one compelling and sustainable storyline can consistently create appointment television. A regular-season Broncos game had a 19.5 overnight rating, which easily beat the most recent championship games in baseball, hockey, and basketball, and even bested the Red Sox’s historic championship in 2004.

But we know about those outstanding numbers and the NFL’s magnetizing power, and so does Aikman. What he’s ignorant of in his second comment about the saturating effect of more prime time games is that the NFL itself is a novelty act. If something is inherently a novelty, the threat of its novelty disappearing is minimal.

There’s a thirst created by the NFL’s 16-game regular season, one that’s grown to become unquenchable. Unlike the MLB, NBA, and NHL which have either 82- or 162-game seasons, dog days in the NFL season simply don’t exist. The importance of each win is significantly magnified, along with the consequences of each loss.

Baseball players reported to spring training this week, and the World Series won’t end until nearly November, when the NFL season is past its halfway point. Hockey and basketball only have just over two months of down time, leaving little opportunity to create the itch that young fans scratch through participation.

Comments (1)

  1. Junior Seau – if it is proved he had brain damage from head trauma – will be another blow and rightly so. Aikman is prescient – the unthinkable will begin to become more acceptable – that football kills people, and not uncommonly as it may turn out. Mike Webster was such an obvious tragedy when you know how his life began and how his life ended, and more and more it is becoming made aware of. The process of all the litigation about this will also be impactful. Media focus will now become acutely focused on each new incident, and it will grow. I’m a football addict but i can see the growing dark cloud over the sport.

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