The NFL is back! Let's remember why it's shit.
Conveniently, there's no better reminder of everything that's wrong with the NFL—well, perhaps not everything, since the league seemingly each day finds novel ways to ratchet up its depravity—than the league playing on Thursdays. This, of course, is the night of the opening matchup, between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs.
The NFL, for better or worse (I, for one, would probably argue worse), is woven snugly into the American cultural fabric. During the season, we tune in like good minions by the tens of millions, shattering the ratings of literally everything else on TV. Knowing that, the NFL—led by chief ghoul Roger Goodell, who set a ridiculous $25 billion revenue goal for 2027—is trying to suck every last penny out of our shriveled bank accounts. That's all Thursday Night Football is: a cash grab. I mean, sure, it's smart for the league to add another day of the week into into the fold—the NFL owns Sunday, Monday and Thursday, while college football has just Saturday—but what really matters to the league and, importantly, it's cabal of billionaire owners, is that the TV rights to Thursday games are spun off and sold as a separate, highly valuable entity.
Nowadays, Thursday Night Football is treated as a glossy, legacy property, but it began in just 2006 and was then aired on the NFL's own network. After proving it was a ratings monster, the NFL cashed out—last year, CBS and NBC agreed to part with a combined $450 million per year to televise five games apiece for two seasons. Not satisified with that $45 million per game, the NFL also sold the component parts for airing the Thursday broadcasts—Amazon bought the rights to stream 10 Thursday Night Football games for a reported $45 million. (Note: Although the season opener is airing on Thursday night, it is technically being branded as a special Sunday Night Football presentation, which, sure, makes perfect sense, but it is the reason the game won't be available on Amazon.)
I guess you can't fault the NFL for attempting to maximize its earning potential, as nearly all of us want more money (sup, Newsweek), but it's doing so to the detriment of pretty much everyone but itself and its cabal of billionaires. The season opener will feature fresh legs and hopefully a good game, but the Thursday matchups typically offer a crappy, tired product.
Playing in a single game in the NFL is like surviving multiple car crashes, and for Thursday games players are afforded two fewer days of rest and preparation. The Thursday slate of games last season was mostly miserable—it got so bad it was rumored the NFL was considering killing Thursday Night Football, which the league denied. To wit: Of the 14 games that were actually played on Thursdays (there were multiple Thursday Night Football-branded games played on Saturdays or Sundays, of course), just five were decided by 10 points or fewer.
And beside the games being terrible, they're dangerous—even moreso than usual. Players have long complained about it. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman wrote an entire article railing against Thursday Night Football, calling it, among other things, "ludicrous," "hypocritical" and a weekly "poopfest." "The league will continue a practice that diminishes the on-field product and endangers its players, but as long as the dollars keep rolling in, it couldn't care less," he wrote in The Players' Tribune. He pointed out that with a Thursday game, the players' one day of actual rest is removed entirely, while full-contact practices replace typically lighter days, ensuring their bodies aren't ready come kickoff. Things get sloppy quickly and players get hurt.
And given what we know about the NFL and the degenerative brain disease CTE, it's a moral slog (at least for some) to click over to a game at all. Making players more at risk than ever in the name of a quick buck ain't making it any easier for anyone to tune in, but that's perfectly on-brand for the league.
The NFL publicly preaches that players need to be cared for (after years of at least ignoring, if not actively suppressing, the reality of the damage the game causes) even as it squeezes their bodies for every cent they're worth. "You talk about player safety, but you want to extend the season and add Thursday games?" Houston Texan Duane Brown said to Sports Illustrated in 2012. "It's talking out of both sides of your mouth."
Even if you're able to forget all that, this particular NFL opener features perhaps the team easiest to despise in the league: The New England Patriots, the perennial winners whose franchise and fans are nearly always aggrieved in some way or the other. Hell, as if deliberately trolling, the Patriots gave about 56 percent of the country a blustery, off-orange, 250-pound reason to hate the team. (Hint: The Patriots have routinely snuggled up with an extremely divisive billionaire who has the ability to kill millions of people at a moment's notice.)
But don't let that distract you from the game itself (oh, and while we're speaking of distractions, that's a favorite excuse for the NFL's black-balling of Colin Kaepernick), because it might be the final chance this year we get to see a decent Thursday game that doesn't leave the players limping away from the stadium in the name of some extra millions for the NFL.
I know I'll be in tuning in—I can't help it, it's the NFL season opener and watching the game feels like a necessary, almost rote, tradition. I also know there will be a healthy dose of self-loathing as I gaze at the TV screen. I guess that's as fitting a way as any to start the season.