A while back, Mark Cuban said he believed the NFL was going to implode. It was 2014, well before Colin Kaepernick decided to sit, then kneel, during the National Anthem. It was well before hundreds of others in the league decided to do so as well, offending a huge swath of the country.
Cuban said this back then:
I’m just telling you: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And they’re getting hoggy.
Recently, a journalist asked Cuban if he believed his prediction was underway right now. He replied:
However, he doesn’t seem to think it has anything to do with the controversy over players refusing to stand for the National Anthem, despite the sudden drop in ratings. Instead, Cuban believes the issue is far deeper:
They still have bigger strategic problems in that people don’t want their kids to play football. That’s huge. That impacts how much football kids will watch. And how much football families watch.
He’s not wrong. While the controversy over the anthem is having an impact, a lot of parents were already displaying serious concerns about their sons playing football. This was caused primarily by the coverage of the long-term impact of concussions on players. Some people now have a decidedly negative opinion not just of football, but of anyone who allows their child to play.
Cuban also believes a societal change has occurred: many children simply don’t understand, watch, and play team sports to the extent they always did as a healthy part of childhood:
Literally, go watch 8-year-old kids play baseball. Unless they’re really into it, there will always be that kid who hits the ball and didn’t know he has to run to first base. That’s crazy. That’s a fundamental problem all sports have.
Again, he’s not completely wrong … but this isn’t a new trend.
Growing up, even in a place where sports was taken pretty seriously, many of my friends were just like me — outside playing on Sunday afternoon, not watching football. We might be playing football, but we could just as easily have been playing war or superheroes. I didn’t grow up enjoying football. I learned more about it when I was in high school and came to appreciate the game then.
Yet Cuban is wrong in thinking the infusion of politics into pastimes is not having a major impact. After developing a love of football for over half of my life — and seeing my team finally play in the Super Bowl last year — I’ve all but given up on the NFL. I’ve been more excited about the University of Georgia’s ranking than the Atlanta Falcons this year, and not because the Falcons have regressed. It’s entirely because I can watch college ball and not see the players — many of whom disagree with me on a great many political positions, I’m sure — selfishly ruining the joy of competition. They just go out and play with respect, energy, and pride, which is exactly what I want to cheer for.
If any product stops providing what people want, the product stops being consumed. For many, sports is an escape from their day-to-day life. Bringing politics into it — especially during the moment we traditionally take to honor the men and women who make such spectacles possible — encourages me to not consume that product any longer. I know I’m not alone.
The NFL’s implosion, if that is what we’re seeing, is due to numerous issues, but make no mistake: injecting divisive politics into sports is never a winning strategy.