While the rest of the country celebrated the return of the NFL last night, I did a touchdown dance because I won’t have to listen to another word about preseason football for the rest of the year.
I have always struggled to understand the appeal of watching meaningless football games in which neither team seems to care who wins and players only seem to get hurt. I realize that apparently I am in the minority. Watching ESPN over the past couple of weeks, there wasn’t a single preseason game that wasn’t extensively analyzed by one of the network’s 500 football experts. The Jets have two big-name quarterbacks with playoff experience, and yet they seem to be incapable of scoring a touchdown. We could argue about how bad the Jets are ad nauseum, or we could just wait a couple of weeks until Tim Tebow or Mark Sanchez actually leads a drive in a game that, you know, matters.
Usually late August is the time of year I pay the least attention to the sports section of the newspaper. This year, however, with my Baltimore Orioles actually in the playoff chase, I want to watch sports highlights to see how the birds did the night before. So I flip on Sports Center and all I see is preseason football highlights. Two analysts and an anchor may be needed to argue over whether this meaningless game is the most important story in the world, or merely in the top 10.
While the outcome of the games is erased once the regular season starts, the injuries that are suffered are not. The preseason is littered with injuries that ruin regular seasons. During one night of preseason football on Aug. 18, four players needed to be carted off the field, and the remainder of their seasons are in jeopardy. In 2003, Michael Vick was on the cover of the Madden NFL video game, but in a matter of seconds during the third week of the 2004 preseason, it was all over. Vick suffered a broken fibula against the Ravens and missed the first 11 weeks of the season. The Falcons finished the year 5–11.
Player safety has been a major issue addressed in recent years, with new rules designed to penalize dangerous tackles and reduce concussions, but of course the easiest way to reduce dangerous tackles is to not have any tackles occur. However, preseason football sells out stadiums and brings in big TV ratings; and no business-savvy NFL owner is going to refuse the gobs of money the preseason gets him. Football is a dangerous sport — there is no way around it. But if safety is really a top priority, why are we celebrating games that don’t matter over injuries that do?