The madness has commenced.
Millions of Americans will tune in regularly over the next month or so to get their regular fix of what has quickly evolved into one of this country’s favorite events on the sports calendar. They will feel the collective ups and downs of the athletes involved, make outrageous postulations despite not having seen any of the teams or players play in the last year, begin to care about players they not heard about just a few weeks earlier, and they will root feverishly for their favorite team to reign supreme.
And no, I’m not talking about the NCAA Tournament and the way March Madness, as it’s more affectionately known, captures the country’s attention for the next few weeks. I’m talking about the craze surrounding the NFL offseason.
Nobody will argue with the fact that the NFL is the most popular watched sports league in the country. Stadiums are sold out in the thousands almost every week, while millions more watch from the comfort of their own home. This year’s NFL playoffs were the most watched in the history of the league and the Super Bowl has been consistently the most watched program on television each year in the last decade.
This growing fanaticism for the NFL has transformed football from a predominantly fall and winter sport that takes place between September and the first week of February to a sport that now commands attention year-round from its ever increasingly devoted fans. Trades, free agent signings, and the treasured NFL Draft, accompanied beforehand by the NFL combine, has generated more interest each and every year, often times overshadowing other leagues such as the NBA, MLB, and NHL, who all play games of consequence during this period.
Fans have become so obsessed with offseason developments that notable sports programs such as ESPN’s SportsCenter and Fox Sports 1’s Fox Sports Live! have had to make player movement stories their top stories. The NBA All-Star Game, Derrick Rose’s injury, and Alex Rodriguez’s Spring Training return to the Yankees all would have been deemed newsworthy enough to hold that spot just a few years ago.
But the increased infatuation of fans with these developments have caused the networks such as Fox Sports 1 to stoop to unprecedented measures to keep fans up to date with the latest developments. This manifested itself perfectly last night as I was watching the Georgetown men’s basketball team play against Butler on Fox Sports 1. During the middle of the game, while Georgetown was running its Princeton offense yet again, the network decided to completely block out the bottom graphic that showed the time left in the game and the score and replace it with a red “Breaking News” graphic.
It was not done to alert the public of an emergency such as incoming severe weather or a national tragedy. It was not even done to alert the viewing audience of the playing status of a player who may been injured earlier in the game. Instead, it was done to notify that Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy had been traded to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. Although the trade had substantial effects, as it one of the rare times in the NFL where star players are traded for another, it absolutely did not merit the attention it received, at least in an alternative universe where people watch sports primarily to watch players compete on the court or field.
But that’s not the reality that exists in professional sports today, especially in the NFL. Due to the broad following it has, any NFL news, no matter how small or insignificant, warrants major attention. Cleveland Browns backup quarterback Johnny Manziel, a former Heisman Trophy winner, has been the subject of many news stories, as it appears that he won’t be the Browns starter next year. Yet I don’t remember anyone writing stories just a few years ago about how J.J. Redick, who was the best college basketball player of his time, wasn’t starting for the Orlando Magic in his first few seasons.
This is the new reality we live in due to our nation’s complete obsession with pro football. Off-the-field developments now overshadow those take place on the field in other sports, making the NFL the first true year-round sport, other than golf, tennis, or professional wrestling (yes I included wrestling as a sport but that’s an entirely different column).
Overall, though, the most remarkable development is not that these respective offseason developments find a way to make headlines in the sports world. The remarkable aspect of this whole thing is that NFL has found a way to make headlines year-round, whether or not games are being played, another indicator of how the league has become more established an effective hegemony over the rest of professional sports. And so, the madness continues.