Do NFL owners believe in ghosts?
See also: Could ESPN drop Monday Night Football?
They may or may not believe in ghosts, but NFL owners really ought to fear a dead man. The game of football is in the process of destroying its hold on the American public's favor, and the rival it had vanquished as the real "national pastime," Major League Baseball, is resurgent. The news that the World Series handily beat NBC's ratings crown jewel, Sunday Night Football, by millions of viewers ought to send chills down the spines (if any) of the owners.
Fashions change – by definition. What is wildly popular in one era becomes a laughable curiosity decades or centuries later. Bustles were once a requirement for a well turned out lady but now are a laugh.
For the past few decades, football's planning and teamwork, its warlike contest for territory, and the thrilling grace of a long pass contrasted with the meat grinder of the ground game seemed to have matched the ethos of the current age better than baseball's leisurely pace and its man-on-man contest between the pitcher and the batter.
The brain trauma consequences of the game have already put the NFL owners on notice that their financial liability for brain injuries may be bottomless. Almost certainly, this led the owners to fear their players and hope that they do not become their plaintiffs when defending lawsuits. That may have led them to overvalue the vehemence of black players' expressions of protest.
Now they have really stepped in it, signaling to what appears to be a majority of their fans that the cherished association of the NFL with patriotism and love of country is no longer valid. They are, in other words, rejecting a key part of their brand and opening the door for MLB to gain substantial mindshare, affection, ratings, and paid admissions.
If they are smart, MLB will start a P.R. campaign focusing on Abner Doubleday; Babe Ruth; and Cooperstown, N.Y., a town that generates a lot more charms, nostalgia, and connections to a mythical age than does Canton, Ohio, home of the Football Hall of Fame. "America's pastime" is the perfect slogan.
Factor in the declining willingness of parents to see their kids risk their brains by going out for football teams in schools, and you have the makings of a disaster for football.
That dead man they need to fear? His name is George Carlin, and years ago he captured the differences between baseball and football, to baseball's great benefit.