Farewell to the National Football League

For my health, sanity and productivity, I quit watching the NFL regularly on television about the time Clint Longley single-handedly beat the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving Day, 1974.  I tuned in periodically in the early '80s, but gave it up entirely by the end of the decade -- in part because I was then living abroad. When I returned to the States nearly a decade later, I found I no longer cared, and eventually even gave up on the Super Bowl.

There was never the slightest chance I would go back, but even if I wanted to, I couldn't, as I cut the cable long ago and learned I can live quite happily and more cheaply without it -- no sports, no CNN, no Fox News. But even if I hook up the old satellite dish again here in my rural New England community, I still wouldn't watch pro football now that the NFL and some of its players have injected racial politics into a sport that, more than any other, pioneered on-field integration and got white America cheering for black athletes.

So I found the president's remarks in Alabama rather refreshing.

President Donald Trump has ratcheted up the national controversy over black National Football League players who refuse to stand while the U.S. National Anthem is played before games. During a Friday night political rally in Alabama, Trump called on fans to boycott teams that allow players to engage in that particular form of protest.

The league's TV ratings have slid since quarterback Colin Kaepernick, then the leader of the San Francisco 49ers, began the trend in September 2016.

'Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, "Get that son of a b***h off the field right now! He is fired. He's fired!"' Trump boomed. His crowd applauded and chanted 'USA! USA!'

There's no question that the has-been Kaepernick exacerbated the league's slide in the ratings, but he alone is not responsible for it. The games have lengthened from three hours to four, while providing the same minuscule amount of "action" -- eleven minutes. The players have grown ever more interchangeable; the teams might just as well field squads of tattooed robots. To illustrate just how far off the rails the league has gone, Los Angeles -- a city that has no use for pro football and proved it could live without the Rams for years -- now has two teams.

And the injuries -- always the game's dirty little secret -- have become ever more damaging, even as the rules are constantly tinkered with, and the refs throw more flags. The players have simply become too big, too fast, and too heavily armored. Even though it's unlikely to succeed, the recently announced lawsuit by the family of the late Aaron Hernandez will surely focus national attention on the issue of brain damage: