Stick with me here. Back in the 1970s and 1980s studio wrestling was gaining huge popularity. Many people guessed and speculated that wrestling was fake and staged. However there was serious debate among true fans as to the validity of the outcome of matches. Wrestling that was broadcast back then on TV was broadcast by local studio outlets in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Cleveland, and other cities around the country. By the mid-1980s Ted Turner built a large following around wrestling in Atlanta, Georgia and brought the product nationwide through his fledgling cable network. A sea change in how people received their TV programming was about to take place. Around this time many of the sport’s most flamboyant stars begin to emerge. People like Rowdy Roddy Piper, Dusty Rhodes, Hulk Hogan, King Kong Bundy, the Iron Sheikh, Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, Macho Man Randy Savage, Jake the Snake Roberts, The Flying Samoans, the Junkyard Dog, Nikita and Ivan Koloff, and many others seized upon the phenomenon and gained massive followings at each match. Storylines around heroes and villains were spelled out by the announcers and then played out in front of thousands of screaming fans who were holding signs and waving flags to represent their favorite wrestlers. Week after week, villains would find ways to thwart the heroes attempts to secure an “Intercontinental Championship Belt”, or “Tag Team Championship Title”. Until one shining moment when the hero or heroes prevailed on a big stage. Then the hero would go on a winning streak until the crowds begin to turn on the hero. When they tired of seeing the hero win so many times the hero would make a heel turn. Then the masses would hunger for a new champion and the same process would play out with the former hero winning close match after close match, sometimes through unscrupulous means and methods, and in spite of being caught red-handed, they would receive the win and there was nothing the referee, the commissioner, or anyone could do about that fact. Until that fateful day when the crowd favorite, a new hero would finally vanquish the corrupt fallen hero and take away the title on the biggest stage. Oh, not to mention that same fallen hero would eventually get one more chance to become a crowd favorite the following year and redeem himself. Wash rinse repeat.
Fast forward to 2019, we all know that the WWE and all wrestling (outside of Olympic wrestling, Roman Greco wrestling, high school wrestling, etc.) is scripted. We also know that the performers are super athletes who can accomplish many physical feats that the common man or woman is unable to accomplish. We revel in their skill and we see the theater in front of us for what it is: live entertainment. Folks don’t stop watching, in fact there may be more viewers on a weekly basis for wrestling now than there was 20 years ago. There are Monday Night Raw watch parties. People sell out arenas to go see wrestling even now, when we are fully aware that the outcomes are scripted.
Is it far-fetched to look at one of our other favorite national sports, football, especially the football played at the highest level in the NFL, and draw some parallels to wrestling? Is football full of close matches? Absolutely. Are there hero players and teams full of media darlings? Absolutely. Are there villainous teams and villainous players that are hated by pockets of our country and in some cases across the entire country? Absolutely. Have there been storylines that have been followed by commentators and broadcasters of the games throughout seasons and across multiple seasons? Have the villainous teams and players succeeded in spite of cheating or apparently cheating in front of our very eyes to receive a win against a much more worthy opponent? Absolutely. Is the NFL full of tremendous athletes who can accomplish physical feats which the average man or woman cannot accomplish? Again, absolutely.
Here is the thing, there is a lot of data, a growing collection of videos, a few statements from people in the know (former players) that point to the possibility, the very real possibility, that NFL games and seasons are scripted. I could go through and write a summary, and I may in a series of future articles, that outlines a concise, thorough, well supported argument that indicates outcomes are being scripted in the NFL. However, the purpose of this article is to begin a conversation and a thought process around why the NFL has become somewhat distasteful to the long time fan. And why some can’t just look away even when they know in their gut that something isn’t quite right. This feeling started to manifest with a lot of folks around the time that a younger generation saw more merit in going outside and enjoying their life, rather than wasting four hours stuck in front of a TV set. Those same folks also started to “cut the cord” to cable services. What could or should the NFL do to assure it maintains relevance in a society where there is a sea change around how people will consume entertainment?
I personally began to feel something wasn’t quite right with NFL games sometime around 2011 or 2012. I may have been slow to realize what was going on (as I now believe this has been going on for well over 15 years in the NFL). However, I grew up at a time when the outcome of games and championships were determined by the skill and training of the athletes as opposed to people in television review booths in a city far away from where the game was being played. So forgive me for my naïveté in wanting to believe that the outcomes were being determined by the tremendously skilled athletes on the field.
So that brings me to my ultimate question. Would you as a consumer continue to watch the NFL and consume the product if it were revealed that games and championships are scripted? I’m willing to bet (more on that implication in a future piece) that the NFL would not lose popularity in the long run. People love drama, regardless of whether or not it’s scripted. We want a reason to root for or against someone. We want heroes and villains. We want to see the underdog win sometimes, especially after some trauma has occurred in their life or the city they call home. Just look at the WWE, Big Brother, the Kardashians…reality TV. We used to believe that the NFL was one of the best forms of “reality TV”. We didn’t know just how right we were.
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About the author: Frank Natale is an attorney licensed in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington, DC. Frank recently served as the Director of a Litigation for the only LSC funded nonprofit law firm in our nation’s capital. Over the years, his work has created lasting and meaningful impact for groups and individuals. Frank was an invited presenter at several national and state conferences for lawyers where he provided guidance on representing veterans, managing and developing multiple generations in the workplace and the use of technology to level the playing field in the court room. Frank and his family are avid travelers and many of his opinions are drawn from a rich history of family experiences and interactions with people from around the world.