The NBA has surpassed the NFL as the league of Americas future | Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The NFL may still be Americas most popular sport, but its become increasingly clear that football embodies the spirit of a nation as it once was not as it is today
Although football has long been Americas favorite child among professional sports, there are clear indicators that the ole pigskin is starting to deflate in fans eyes. Football fanatics need not panic: polls show its still far ahead of both baseball and basketball in popularity. The 2017 NBA finals averaged 20.4m viewers (a 20-year record), which is roughly the same as the NFLs regular Sunday night audience of 20.3m, and nowhere near the 2016 Super Bowl ber-audience of 111m. Based on just those numbers, football is still kicking professional basketball, baseball, and hockey through the goal posts. But 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 Americas future.
This prediction has nothing to do with the athletes themselves, their level of skill, their heart, or their commitment to their sport. Professional athletes are generally the highest expression of what the human body is capable of doing and therefore inspiring to the fans to reach higher and strive harder. In that way, no sport is superior to any other sport. But when it comes to professional sports, some are more inspirational, more exciting, and more entertaining to the general public than others and those sports take on a symbolic meaning for Americans. They come to represent our core values. They represent not just who we are, but who we want be.
Baseball once ruled all other sports as Americas pastime because it reflected the laid-back, less confrontational mood of America in the 1920s and 1930s. It was highly strategic, required precision teamwork, but moved at a pace reflective of hot summers in rural towns across the country. Footballs popularity rose with the increasing aggression of the America at home and abroad. Football embodied an America who faced all challenges head on, forcing its will on opponents through skill, guile and brute force. We were a country taking bold risks in order to succeed and football was the riskiest of team sports.
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, lets remember that he first took a knee in 2016 and that the fan base erosion had already been strong several years before that.
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. A broken arm or cracked rib is one thing, the scars that prompt bragging rights, but widespread permanent brain damage that affects players for the rest of their lives is beyond entertainment. There is nothing sexy about depression and dementia.