It may help your understanding of what the National Football League is doing to itself by thinking of the entire last two years as a giant scientific trial, the object of which is to see if there is long-term financial value in trying to take heroin addicts and hook them on heroin, and then doubling down to see if they can get the prostitutes to do tricks on their own time and turn all the extra money back to the pimp.
Why else would the league’s 32 owners, awash in their own “I have everything I can get and now I want everything you can get too” hypergreed try to gin up a business already so ingrained in the nation’s marrow that media people gleefully yammer about “Hurray! Football is back!” and putting out countdown clocks (“This many days until Football!”) be willing to let the industry shame itself?
I mean, how much more VendettaGate can you endure?
Actually, there are lots of other possibilities, but since they all lead to Roger Goodell being fired for overreaching as though he was one of Stalin’s heirs who made his move for leadership while his 32 Stalins were still very much alive, those can’t be as likely. Or as delicious.
The NFL has already shown the nakedness of its power, bending networks and many of its NFL reporters to their will in exchange for the illusion of access to second-level executives . . . crushing the will of cities and their taxpayers with a mere glance . . . flipping off the medical community with an evilly insouciant “Sure it’s bad for the players, but we feel fine” air.
Now it is even offering self-cannibalization as an entertainment medium, all in search of Goodell’s not-so-mythical $25 billion annual revenue goal. And either they are really are this stupid and arrogant . . .
. . . or so sure that even awash in shame, degradation and filth of their own making that they still win. There is a bizarre yet intoxicating self-satisfaction in that, if all you’re performing is a social experiment in which you try to determine how to take a five-star restaurant with lines down the block and continue to lower the quality of the food, service, ambience and price until people finally get sick of the place and go somewhere else.
In fairness, we should say that this is an exaggeration -- the NFL was always a three-star joint with a dress code that made it seem like it was five-star worthy.
But when you get people believing you earned your five stars, it’s as if you did. People believe what they want to believe because they want to believe it. This has always been true, and it always will be true until the robots finally figure out how to vomit up nickel-cadmium and then take us out as a species.
This is where the league and its 32 overlords are today, in matching urine-soaked tuxedos getting ready for Opening Week – knowing they have humiliated themselves to an unprecedented degree for a major industry yet comfortable that everyone is lined up outside the door like always.
And it’s going to be that way the day Goodell is fired, as he surely will with the first sign of audience erosion, and it’s going to be that way even after he has left. The owners run this enterprise, they sign off on everything, and they are far more responsible for this parlous yet lucrative mess than Goodell can ever be. Goodell’s crime isn’t being too powerful – his crime is getting out over his skis by forgetting that he isn’t too powerful. He’s as expendable as a broken copier, because just like the customers, there is a line of Goodell’s successors stretching down the block too.
And that is why the owners are still happy today. They have worked very hard to wreck the machine that can’t be wrecked, and it hums along like always – a little bit like Trantor, the slowly rotting mega-empire in the Foundation science fiction series.
Nobody cares about the rot – yet. Everything is still so shiny and pretty, and so many people who should know better choose to ignore it, so the day of reckoning is still decades off.
But it won’t collapse all at once. Ruins don’t become ruins overnight. The league will be the league as long as anyone says, “I know it’s seedy, but it’s Football!” or “Yes, some it sickens me, but this is our culture!” or even “You can still make a good buck in football, and we’re here to do business.”
And the circle is unbroken. The NFL is stabbing itself repeatedly to check its invulnerability, which is the real show here, but never mind that. Kickoff’s at 5:30 Thursday. Who’s bringing the nachos?