Self-deprecation as a source of comedy has been the basis of many of the most acclaimed acts and shows of all time. The “look at how internally corrupt I am” schtick has given the entertainment world some of its best characters, from Seinfeld’s George Costanza to comedian Louis C.K.
In the weeks leading up to Super Bowl XLIX, a new contender emerged in the pursuit of garnering attention at the expense of its own moral reputation: the symbiotic tandem of the NFL and major sports media.
While watching the NFL transcend an “any press is good press” attitude and actively seek out negative attention was somewhat entertaining, the lack of attention to the actual game was thoroughly disheartening.
Fans nationwide were enthralled as they watched the lovable Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch smirk at huffy NFL officials as they fined him for his gold-pleated cleats, or fumed at his refusal to answer questions on Media Day.
Brandon Browner, a Seahawks-to-Patriots off-season transplant, publicly encouraged his new teammates to attack the existing injuries of players on his old team. ESPN later released stories claiming that partially-injured Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman texted his old friend “LOL” in response.
Does this competitiveness retain the integrity of football or is the NFL not adequately concerned about their player’s safety? The NFL would hope that many were concerned enough to tune in on Sunday.
Most prominently, viewers were treated to Deflategate, a scandal backed by the notion that the Patriots got away with cheating thanks to dinner dates between the team’s owner Robert Kraft and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Business Insider even reported that the unnamed ball boy who deflated game balls to better fit into Tom Brady’s hands was a “person of interest” in the NFL’s investigation.
All of these Super Bowl plotlines are currently among the most searched football-related topics, according to Google Trends. They seem desperate to conjure a mental image of a greedy businessman tapping his fingers together in a mansion surrounded by stacks of cash, while laughing gleefully about the millions he is making at the expense of the players.
Everybody loves a villain, and the NFL is happy to give one. This tactic is viable from a ratings standpoint, as controversy clearly catalyzes interest.
As much as I, a lifelong fan of the NFL, would have loved to see in-depth coverage of why the most prolific offensive team of the past decade and a half was or was not prepared to prevent Seattle, a defensive powerhouse, from consecutive championships, I am not among the target audience in marketing “the greatest show on Earth.”
When it comes to the Super Bowl, I would watch a Rams-Seahawks matchup played in an exact replica of Candlestick Park erected in downtown San Jose. I need no convincing, and will apparently watch this game despite the NFL’s best attempts to keep me disinterested.
The x’s and o’s have never really been sexy enough to ensure that every casual fan is going to set aside Feb. 1 for the sole purpose of a single football game, but this year’s media storylines were more controversial and anti-NFL than any since 2007, the last time the Patriots were accused of cheating en route to the Super Bowl.
At the unfortunate expense of fans who had no choice but to salivate at a juicy Super Bowl matchup all on their own, the drummed-up turmoil was successful in filling thousands of otherwise empty living rooms. Hopefully next year the top stories will pertain to the players and strategies on the field, but as long as the casual fan continues to consume the NFL’s desperate cries for attention, I think I’ll just tune out from ESPN for a couple of weeks.