The NFL is exhausting, and it’s not fun to watch

The NFL just doesn’t do it for me like it used to.

Football is a great game. It involves complex strategy. Its players perform superhuman feats of athleticism. And the NFL is a fairly level playing field, so most games are competitive and compelling. That’s why I’ve enjoyed watching it for practically my entire life.

But the current NFL viewing experience makes it harder and harder to achieve that same level of enjoyment.

Announcers used to spend the time between plays breaking down Xs and Os, illuminating the strategy and execution behind the action we just witnessed. It enhanced the viewing experience.

Most of today’s replays and analysis have a different, far less exciting goal: ensuring that the previous play complied with the NFL’s confusing, overly complicated rules. Instead of showing how a receiver took advantage of a zone defense to get open, announcers look for any little thing that the refs may not have caught in real time.

Did the receiver push off from the defender? Did he do it within five yards of the line of scrimmage? Were both feet in bounds? Did the heel on his second foot hit the green part of the turf before his toes hit the white part? Had he established possession of the ball before he went out of bounds? Did he maintain possession even afterwards? Was the ball past the first-down marker at the moment he stepped out of bounds? How much time was left on the clock when that happened?

It’s exhausting, and it’s not fun to watch. I don’t even celebrate when a big play happens anymore, because I’m waiting for the other shoe — a challenge or penalty flag — to drop.

Because rules dominate the in-game discussion, it’s only natural that they dominate the news cycle between games as well. Antonio Brown made an incredible over-the-head touchdown catch while running out of bounds last night, and nobody’s talking about it today. Why? Because after the play, he did a brief dance with five hip thrusts, which drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. So the top NFL story this morning is the league’s rule against “sexually suggestive” celebrations.

I didn’t become a football fan because I like breaking down replays like the Zapruder film. I didn’t become a football fan because I like interpreting rules like the Constitution. I didn’t become a football fan because I like debating how many hip thrusts constitutes a “sexually suggestive” celebration.

The NFL wants it this way, because it keeps the league in the headlines for pretty much five months straight. It might be good for publicity, but it’s terrible for fans.

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