The National Football League is flying high as the unrivaled leader on the American sport scene. But it does have a problem.
No, I’m not referring to the violent nature of the sport, which is producing lawsuits by former players who suffer from injuries like brain damage and which makes some of us feel guilty for watching it. I’m referring to the fact that the NFL has failed to come up with much anything to capture fan interest in the month of June.
Every other month is covered, I think — a remarkable feat given that the real playing season traditionally encompassed only five months. Here is what the NFL now offers:
July — training camp
August — the preseason
September through December — the season
January – the playoffs
February — the Super Bowl
March — free agency
April — the televised “combine” at which fans get to watch draft prospects run around
May — the draft, which has been pushed back from April to fill another month
But what about June? OTA’s (organized team activities) don’t quite cut it, except here in Washington, where Robert Griffin III’s recovery from knee surgery receives more scrutiny than a conservative group applying for tax exempt status. Something more is required.
This year, that something (though, to be fair, not the something the NFL wanted) is crime. NFL star Aaron Hernandez has been arrested and charged with murder. And, in a separate incident, he is alleged to have shot someone in the face.
Now, Hernandez is (or was) a very good tight end. But he’s not O.J. Simpson.
Yet his legal difficulties are the subject of seemingly endless coverage on ESPN and other media outlets devoted to sports. They have eclipsed the baseball pennant races, the NBA draft, and (of course) soccer’s Confederation Cup — an excellent competition whose pre-game shows have been preempted by ESPN’s crime coverage.
There was a time when people enjoyed sports, not as an escape really, but as a space outside of, and morally superior, to the normal run of events. I believe that most people still would prefer to enjoy sports that way.
But a superstructure has grown up on top of sports and those who profit from that superstructure need to maintain and feed it. Thus, we’ll be seeing and hearing plenty more about Aaron Hernandez (at last glance, ESPN was interviewing some prison warden as he showed off his cells) — at least until the NFL training camps finally open.