Football is back. What an exciting time. Once again, we get to spend our Sundays (and Monday nights and Thursday nights and the occasional Saturday night, too) imbibing the drug known as RedZone while watching our favorite gladiators pummel each other to death.
Also, our Sports Narratives are about to get a whole lot more interesting. The NFL may not be a nightly sport, but other than a presidential election, nothing takes over the public consciousness the way professional football does. It’s not just the games, either. In fact, the hottest storylines typically have very little to do with actual football. Think Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, brain trauma, and replacement referees. The NFL, in so many ways, has become an avatar for America, and not in the way commissioner Roger Goodell would prefer.
Roger views his beloved Shield as sort of a fourth branch of government. A better description would be that it’s a mirror for current events in the country. The rise of management and diminishment of labor. Workers rights. Racial tensions. Executive branch overreach. Gambling.
During football season, we spend more energy dissecting off-the-field happenings than anything else. With that in mind, here are seven predictions for the upcoming NFL season that have nothing to do with actual football.
1. The Colin Kaepernick Hot Takes will only get hotter as the season goes on
Where things will really take off, though, is when one of these cowardly executives or coaches finally puts their name to one of those “fuck that guy” quotes. Or when some white player (if only Richie Incognito wasn’t on double secret probation) decides to take on the role of President of the Anti-Kap Brigade.
Now that other NFL players and teams are thinking about staging their own demonstrations, you better batten down the hot take hatches.
2. Roger Goodell will do something incredibly dumb, and people will get incredibly angry and in the end, nothing will change
This one has become a yearly occurrence. Goodell is a boob. This, we all know. He’s a glorified PR man and he’s not even good at that job. In Goodell’s mind, his sole job is to Protect the Shield. Yet every year, his actions lead to The Shield coming under attack.
And yet, none of it matters. The NFL may be a despised organization, but it’s a ridiculously rich one. The league is projected to earn north of $13 billion this year. That makes the owners happy, which is all that matters. The public and the media can yell and scream all they want. As long as Goodell keeps the cash coming in — which, since this country is addicted to football, he no doubt will — his job is safe.
As for a prediction, here’s guessing Goodell says something idiotic about the class action lawsuit currently being levied against Pop Warner football. The lawsuit alleges that the organization knowingly put players in danger by ignoring the risks of the sport. Goodell, remember, is the same person who at a press conference during Super Bowl week last year responded to a question about the dangers of football by saying that “sitting on a couch” is also dangerous. This is not a man capable of delivering a delicate answer about a complicated subject. All we need is someone to ask him the question.
3. The Chris Berman Farewell Tour will get awkward
Berman has been with ESPN since 1979. He joined the network one month after the company’s inception. He’s been hosting Sunday NFL Countdown for an astonishing 31 years. In 2008, ESPN’s then-Vice President of Production called him “the face of ESPN” and for good reason: Berman’s presence and skillset played a major role in ESPN’s transforming into the monolith that it is today.
This, however, will be Berman’s last year hosting NFL Countdown on Sunday and Monday nights. Berman is 61, but his agent has made it clear that if it were up to Berman, he’d continue hosting both shows for years to come. The implication is that Berman is being forced out.
What happens when a financially secure egomaniac gets fired by his bosses, but is allowed to remain on TV every week? Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to find out. Making all this even more intriguing is that Berman’s star is no longer what it once was. Young people don’t like him (if they even know who he is). This being his last year on NFL Countdown will certainly be a big deal to him. But will anyone else care, and how will he handle it if they don’t?
4. Tom Brady’s new ridiculous haircut will catch on
Just kidding, obviously. I mean, have you seen this thing?
He looks like he gave his barber a picture of Zack Morris and Hillary Clinton and asked for a combo.
5. NFL head coaches will continue to come out in support of Trump
John Harbaugh is on record as being pro wall-building. Rex Ryan has already stumped for Trump. Many more are certain to follow. Trump, essentially, is an NFL head coach. He’s someone who thinks that yelling and pounding his fists is how you lead. It’s not surprising that football coaches would be drawn to his personality. Where things will get interesting is when a coach and his star black player start trading political jabs in the media.
This election season is going to be a bit insane. Look for things to get a bit touchy in the NFL come November, and we don’t just mean because the Browns are imploding.
6. Roger Goodell will suspend everyone he possibly can
Per the indispensable Spotrac, 61 NFL players received suspensions at some point during the season last year. The year before that, the number was 49. This year, there have already been 38 players suspended, and Week 1 hasn’t even begun.
Of course, many of these (such as the 11 doled out to players who violated the league’s performance enhancing drugs policy) are warranted. But thanks to the final DeflateGate ruling, Goodell is now free to reclaim his role as League Sheriff. Reprimanding players for misbehaving is the kind of stuff Goodell dreams about when the Viagra fails to kick in. Players, be wary, this is the year to be on your very best behavior.
7. Now that he’s retired, Peyton Manning will be on your TV screen all the time
Remember last year, when we were all inundated with commercials for daily fantasy sports? That won’t be the case this season, now that the government has gone after the industry, forcing DraftKings and FanDuel to keep lower profiles and quit boasting about their “get-rich-quick” aspects. But all that means is that there’s more airtime that needs to be filled.
Come on down, Peyton Manning.
You’ve no doubt already seen this DirectTV ad. Get ready for a whole bunch more of these, plus numerous spots from Papa Johns and Nationwide and probably some new brands, too. Oh, and don’t forget about the random TV set drop-byes that will occur almost weekly. They’ve already started.
The lesson: In America, you can be an athlete with a past that includes a sexual harassment suit and a PED allegation and still become an icon. That is, as long as you’re really good at football and look like the neighbor who comes by every now and then asking for a cup of sugar.
The NFL, where the American Dream comes to life, for some.