Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s essay really labels out the differences and ultimately, comes to the conclusion as to how the NBA is replacing the NFL. You’ll find yourself agreeing with many points.
This is something that’s been discussed amongst your friends and many might not want to admit but the NBA is definitely replacing the NFL. There’s so much fan engagement and change that’s come from the front offices. What’s not to love? NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote for The Guardian and expressed the thoughts that many of us might share. However, unlike him, I do believe that the shift has happened.
“The 2017 NBA finals averaged 20.4 million viewers (a 20-year record), which is roughly the same as the NFL’s regular Sunday night audience of 20.3 million, and nowhere near the 2016 Super Bowl uber-audience of 111 million. America can be fickle. And the Magic 8-Ball of our cultural zeitgeist says, ‘All signs point to the NBA replacing the NFL as the league of America’s future.'”
There’s other pieces of evidence that he also presents us with. You can tell that he did his research.
But America has changed and with that change we are seeing a shifting away from hoisting football on our collective shoulders. Although football remains our most popular professional sport, that popularity has been declining over the past five years, from 67% saying they were fans in 2012, to 57% in 2017. Professional baseball has also fallen 2% during that time. However, professional basketball has risen 3%. Before anyone starts blaming Colin Kaepernick, let’s remember that he first took a knee in 2016 and that the fan base erosion had already been strong several years before that.
He even touched upon the many health risks that young men face by playing football. Many parents don’t want their kids near that sport these days after what’s surfaced.
One major reason Americans are stepping back from football is the danger. Physical risk has always been one of the attractions of the sport – a rite of manhood. But recent studies showing just how severe the brain damage is to the players shocked us. A 2017 study published in the Journal of American Medical Association discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 110 out of 111 brains of former NFL players.
Ironically enough, he left the player protests for last.
The NBA has been more tolerant of its players’ freedom of speech. Players and coaches from many teams have silently protested and spoken out to the press. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Jack, Alan Anderson, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett and others wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts during warm-ups in 2014 to protest the death of unarmed Eric Garner by police. Steph Curry and Kevin Durant continue to speak out. Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy has said that protesting athletes are “models of American patriotism”. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich echoed that sentiment when he said that his players have “the organization’s full support to speak their minds”. Has speaking out affected ratings? This year the NBA, despite its protests, has increased its TV ratings by 32%, while the NFL’s viewership dropped from 16.5m viewers last year to 15m this year.
Things aren’t perfect. There is still pressure to silence players. But the NBA has a chance to seize this moment and boldly lead by promoting the values and freedoms of the US Constitution. To be not just sports heroes, but also social heroes who reflect the kind of engaged Americans who won’t tolerate anyone stepping on our values, just for the price of a ticket, a hot dog and a beer.
Do you agree with the points he’s made? As a fan would tell you, numbers don’t lie and in this case, they surely don’t. Now, if only the MLB would just take notes from the NBA, then perhaps the average fan wouldn’t be a 57 year old man.