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Saturday Sports: The Future Of The NFL


And now it's time for sports.


SIMON: But as the time for NFL football passed, numbers are often down. Controversies are up. We're joined now by Howard Bryant of and ESPN The Magazine. Howard, good morning. And I understand it's the birthday of Joe DiMaggio, Pope John XXIII, Ben Stein and Howard Bryant.

HOWARD BRYANT: And Bucky Dent and Donovan McNabb. Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. OK. Bucky Dent, who has a...

BRYANT: All the 11/25s out there. It's a pretty good day.

SIMON: Yeah, Bucky Dent, who's got a - quite an exciting middle name in Boston, yes.

BRYANT: That's right.

SIMON: Well, happy birthday, my friend.

BRYANT: Thank you.

SIMON: Football - concussions, brain damage, protests, grumpy owners, racist mascots. Is pro football deflating in value before our eyes?

BRYANT: Well, it's fascinating, Scott, when you think about it because this is the one sport - we saw it with basketball in the late 1970s, where people thought that the drug scandals in basketball were hurting it, that the game was too black, that people didn't care that you can't - you only care about a basketball game in the last five minutes. And the sport was failing.

We remember it during the steroid era in baseball, where the game was really struggling, where we were talking about drugs instead of superstars. Everything about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens was always about drugs instead of their greatness. But we never talked about it with football. We never discussed football being a problem sport, even though football had plenty of problems, because the money kept rolling in.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And now the money's not quite rolling in as much as it did. You've got CTE, which is the brain trauma issues that have always been there for the last several years, especially in more and more prominence. And I think you also have the diminishing returns of football. Roger Goodell, the commissioner, said he wants $25 billion in revenue for the NFL by 2027, and it's at $13 billion now. So what do they do?

We used to have football on Sundays and Mondays and then Saturdays after Thanksgiving. Now you play Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Saturdays and now Sunday nights. So I think people may have had enough of football. It's not that staple for a couple days that it used to be.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And then, of course, there's the protests, as well. Let's think about this in terms of the players fighting injustice. But you also have the - you have the fans. You have a lot of fans that say that they don't like what they're seeing on the field from the players. And it finally is making football a more complicated sport than it has been. I think that football - like baseball with some of the World Series that we've had in the past few years - finally, football needs the game to save it. It really does need a great postseason to get people to maybe think better about the sport because it is struggling right now.

SIMON: Yeah. I did not watch the games on Thursday. I got to tell you I have a hard time watching because of the brain damage issue. Simple as that.

BRYANT: Well, it's hard, Scott. I mean, it's very hard. I remember watching a Patriots game a couple of years ago, and Stevan Ridley - the running back - came - you know, came down, got a ball off tackle, and just got hammered. And he fumbled the ball, and you could tell he was unconscious right when he got hit. And I started watching it. And I'm thinking, I do this for a living, and this is really, really hard to watch. And how long before you start to recognize as a fan that you've got a piece of this?

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: You've got a part of this. You've got to decide. And so far, for many years, fans have made that decision - that they're willing to watch these players knock themselves unconscious and justify it because they make so much money. But you do have a piece of this when you watch, and it is very, very difficult to watch these days.

SIMON: Well, Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much for being with us. And happy birthday again, my friend.

BRYANT: Thank you. And happy holidays.

(SOUNDBITE OF LETTUCE'S "PHYLLIS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.