Ethics And Sports: Maybe It’s Confirmation Bias, But The TV Ratings Give Me Hope

And these days, when the goal is a more ethical society, I’ll take hope anywhere I can find it.

The big story in the NFL right now is that for the first time ever, its TV ratings are dropping. Through the first seven weeks of the season, ratings were down for every prime-time NFL show: “Sunday Night Football” by 19 percent, “Monday Night Football” by 24 percent and the Thursday night game by 18 percent. For the season as whole, ratings are off in regional games too. The NFL is doing what it always does with bad news: obfuscating and lying. It has blamed the drop on the Presidential race, as if anyone wouldn’t do anything to escape that, and the generational abandonment of network TV and even cable for the internet. Various polling results, however, show that a big factor is the league’s increasingly obvious lack of values.

The concussion issue-–finally—is hurting interest in football, especially as parents try to steer their children toward less risky sports. A recent study that researchers took pains to insist was only troubling, not conclusive, found brain chemistry changes in children who had played one season of junior football. I don’t know about anyone else, but if there is any evidence that a sport might reduce my kid to a brain-damaged invalid by the time he’s 60, that’s plenty for me to limit his recreation choices. The public is also finally reacting to the NFL’s evident cover-up of its responsibility for ex-players who have perished as a consequence of CTE, a brain disease caused by repeated head trauma. I wish this was the main reason that fans are turning off pro-football games, but at least it’s a factor.

Polls also suggest that the domestic abuse exhibited by some stars, and the league’s initial attempts to minimize the seriousness of the problem, has hurt the NFL’s popularity. Most of all, apparently, players using the field to make political statements that many fans feel are both inappropriate and not what they pay to see when they watch football has caused a backlash, as well as the NFL’s pandering to the protesters and their anti-law enforcement supporters.

Good, good, good. This is a greedy sport that extols violence, profits from violence, and tries to avoid accountability for what the violence does to its players’ minds and conduct, as well as our culture.

Meanwhile, baseball’s World Series beat Sunday Night Football in viewers last week and is having its best TV ratings since 2004. The Cubs are the reason, of course; still, baseball, unlike football, communicates positive values. The game has made rule changes to reduce violence, even though the plays that were sacrificed—runners breaking up double plays with rolling blocks and spectacular collisions at the plate between base-runners and catchers—had provided some of the sport’s biggest thrills through the decades. Baseball celebrates individual sportsmanship, character, responsibility, courage and sacrifice, and the philosophy that time never runs out, so there is always hope. Best of all, it’s not about symbolic warfare and hurting people to prevail. In the Series game crowd shots, I see fans in desperate, hopeful anticipation, cheering for the emergence of a hero, not for the cracking of enemy skulls.

We need baseball right now. This field, this game, is a part of our past…It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.

Go Cubs.

31 thoughts on “Ethics And Sports: Maybe It’s Confirmation Bias, But The TV Ratings Give Me Hope

  1. Maybe I’m being to optimistic here, but I hope this decline (and its continuation) finally force the NFL to update the rules to reduce injuries. A shorter season would help too and of course enforcing good behavior by the players.

    • I think the game is fix-proof, just like boxing. The fans want the violence. Baseball could eliminate the collisions because they are incidental to the sport, which is a finesse game. Cracking skills is what made the NFL what it is: look at NFL promotionals.
      It may take 20 years, but I think it’s doomed.

      • I believe the decline in ratings is because they are trying to increase player safety by penalizing and fining head shots and other risky hits. The games are therefore less violent and less interesting. What do you think would happen to NASCAR ratings if crashes fell in half? Thus, any further “fixes” might be correct from an ethics standpoint but risk further ratings declines.

  2. Poor Cleveland. The Tribe had to win the AL pennant THIS year. It’s like Eeyore being the lucky one over whom hovers the one and only rain cloud that FOLLOWS and TRACKS the victim it intends to rain on.

    I’ll go ahead and say this now: Expect the Cubs’ fan base to dwindle, too, beginning right after they win Game 7 tonight (if they win it). I am rooting for the Cubs to win, not only because of the long drought of championships for them, but also in what I believe is vain hope that a Cubs victory will somehow result in less damage and injury on the streets of Chicago than a Game 7 “choke.” I know for my part that, if the Cubs win, then next year, it’s a whole new season, and they’re the bad guys again, especially against the Dodgers.

    • I guess I hope the Cubs win so they can take their drought and their goat and all the other crap and just go away and stop being martyrs. Chicago sports fans are true midwesterners. They support crappy teams for decades (centuries?) and they get crappy teams.

      And what about the White Sox? Didn’t they win a series this Century? Who the hell did Frank Thomas play for?

      The yuppies on the north side are pretty insufferable. I’m content to let the drought go on another century.

      • “Chicago sports fans are true midwesterners. They support crappy teams for decades (centuries?) and they get crappy teams.”

        Houston sports fans must be true midwesterners, too, to some degree. But Houston is trying out-populate Chicago, and the town’s future midwestern-ness (never mind its Texan-ness) is in doubt. Houston doesn’t need great fires like Chicago in 1871, because the town has an annual Disaster Lotto chance to have great floods and windstorms…likely soon also to have great epidemics, depending on what diseases that future mosquitoes and kissing bugs will be carrying.

        • Houston is an interesting place for sure. Famous, at least in the ’80s for being a major city and having no zoning code. People from all over the world because of the “erl bidness?” Not particularly Texan, is it? Of course the Bushes settled there from Midland and the oil patch people spent a lot of dough trying to make it sophisticated. And probably succeeded in large part. Had lunch in a huge Pakistani restaurant in a former grocery store big box. First time I’d seen a public facility where the women had to sit in a separate area from where the men sat. I’m guessing Pakistan and India pop out petrochemical engineers the way they do ER docs.

          • I read somewhere recently (probably Texas Monthly) that of all large American cities, Houston is indisputably THE MOST diverse, in terms of numbers of nationalities claimed by numbers of residents (if that makes any sense). Most impressive to me is the large Vietnamese segment. But the “erl,” as you call it, brings in settlers even from Canada. Unless Houston becomes some kind of Borg and assimilates the entirety of Harris County, the city might find itself someday out-populated by what is now a relatively modest Galveston, to the near south. The historical tidbit about Galveston is that it was on track to be the largest city in Texas, until the disastrous and (in)famous 1900 hurricane hit. Now, Galveston is catching up, but fast. I’ll look for that Pakistani restaurant. When I go a-hunting for a restaurant in Houston, I usually end up quitting just to get out of the traffic, and defaulting to one of the Cheescake Factorys(-ies?), or to the House of Pies. I’m a (land-animal) meat-eater, so the aforementioned, plus Ruth’s Chris and Fogo de Chao (steaks), and Killen’s (BBQ) are my typical landing strips.

            • My Pakistani friend and client took me there. I assume the Vietnamese are in Galveston/Houston because of fishing in the Gulf. The Vietnamese family my parents took in after the War in Miami pretty quickly resettled with the other Vietnamese who were pooling their funds and buying fishing trawlers ASAP. Great people. Houston really is an interesting contemporary American city. Should be interesting to see if the melting pot still works. I hate the word, but “diverse” sure describes Houston. Lots of nasty “The First 48” episodes from Harris County though.

              • Ahh, Houston… “a thousand villages searching for a city”

                We Texans don’t claim it, and avoid it any chance we get. A sure way to gain sympathy is to start your vacation fail story with “first we had to drive through Houston…”

      • “The yuppies on the north side are pretty insufferable. I’m content to let the drought go on another century.”

        Yes they are , but go I couldn’t stand them whining anymore. Maybe now they will shut the hell up.

  3. Go Cubs? What about the Indians? Both clubs are staffed and managed by ex-Sox. How did the Sox let the boy wonder get away anyway?

    I hope football is declining. I have no way of telling if the declines are significant or what they have to do with. But since I’ve been back in the U.S., I’ve made a point of not watching a single game, pro or college. I’m fairly sure grade school and high school buddies of mine were damaged even by the time they were done with high school. I always thought guys who played football were crazy, but it’s becoming apparent football made these guys crazy, even while we were still in high school. They all played youth football. Full pads and helmets. For years.

    Two words to tamp down the enthusiasm about baseball: Aroldis Chapman.

    And while we’re lionizing baseball, a few further observations/speculation on the Jose Fernandez untimely death. Reports from the Dade County coroner: He was drunk, twice the legal limit. There was cocaine in his system. Speculation based on various reports: He had just had a major argument with his girlfriend who was pregnant with his son and he was furious and acting out when he got liquored up and roared off in his boat with nearly a thousand horsepower of motors on it with two unsuspecting acquaintances. I suspect Jose was furious at his girlfriend because she wasn’t amenable to just being the mother of his son without his marrying her and being a legal and present, full time father. I think he wanted the big time jock father program where it’s open smorgasbord for life, marriages or children be damned. His “fiance” wasn’t buying it and he was pissed. Just more ethics corruption from the sports and entertainment industrial complex.

    • By the way, Jack, I think an Ethics Alarm shout out is in order for American sports fans. I was struck again last night by how many Cubs fans there were in Cleveland’s stadium last night. They were louder than the Indians fans. Sounded like a home game for the Cubs when anything good happened for the Cubs. Strange but nice.

      I’m sitting here watching a soccer game being played in London. As usual, the visiting fans are impounded in the corner of the stadium and, in this case, surrounded by a Maginot Line of security guys, rather than the usual chain link fence or spiked steel barrier, to protect the visiting fans from the home fans. Crazy.

      Isn’t it great the way you can see a guy in a Cubs jersey standing next to his buddy in an INdians jersey and there are no police between them. Really tremendous. And perhaps unique in the world of, as the Brits are wont to say, Sport.

    • Go Cubs? What about the Indians? Both clubs are staffed and managed by ex-Sox. How did the Sox let the boy wonder get away anyway?

      The Boy Wonder was a fraud; he had made a mess in Boston, saddling the team with three huge contracts that would cripple it for years. He realized that Crawford was weenie and declining; that Gonzalez had lost his power and was a sedative in the clubhouse, and the Beckett was done. Rather than clean up his mess, he jumped the team where he could be a hero again. His successor, Ben Cherington, made the best trade in the team’s history by getting the Dodgers to take all three contracts, just to get Gonzalez. You see how many championship this has won them…

      • Yeah. Probably a little early at this point for anything more than commenter wild speculation. But evidently neither of the other two guys were boat guys at all.

  4. On MLB Tonight the other night a couple of the announcers were talking about the ratings for baseball being better then the NFL and they were almost giddy about it.

    • TB, I wouldn’t be surprised if they get bonuses based on ratings for their broadcasts. So ARod and Charlie Hustle were doubtless excited about the size of their forthcoming checks.

      • No this was MLB Tonight with Matt Vasgersian, Harold Reynolds, Al Leiter
        and Tom Verduccion on MLB Network. Not FOX Sports with Jeter and Rose.

        And they were giddy about the games numbers being better not the numbers for their show.

          • For some reason, I really enjoy Harold. It’s something in his voice. Everything seems so damned fun to him. Maybe he’s just acting. Like Paul. Hah. I know Jack thinks Harold’s an annoying idiot because Harold is vocally old-school and anti metrics.

            But since I’ve returned to watching US TV after a two year hiatus, I’ve successfully (for a month) sworn off watching ex jocks and commentators blather about sports. A total waste of time. And addictive. So I’m just saying “no.”

            • I agree with you on Harold’s charm. Dennis Eckersley’s like that as a color man…he’s so enthusiastic and obviously loves the game so much. But Eck, to his credit, doesn’t spend time trying to argue against what the stats tell us.

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