It’s a Sunday afternoon in autumn, and Boston University student Ryan Brister is watching his second National Football League game of the day.
“I find that after a long week of light schoolwork, nothing makes me happier than spending, say, nine hours in front of a TV watching people I’ll never meet play a dangerous if meaningless game for large sums of money,” said Brister.
While nine hours—the equivalent of three games—of football might seem an excessive amount to watch in a single day, Brister is not alone in this hobby.
“I love football,” said Christopher Feldman, Brister’s roommate, who on Sundays can be seen yelling at people who cannot hear him for reasons ranging from interceptions to the preponderance of commercials. “Isn’t it great?”
The two BU students are one small part of a national trend in which Americans, regardless of age or race, regularly spend hours on end watching the NFL every Sunday in the fall. Sources indicate that more men than women partake in this trend, and that many NFL viewers also watch college football on Saturdays.
While watching football in bulk is generally considered socially acceptable, some argue that the game is rife with basic flaws, such as the fact that it causes many of its participants to suffer long-term brain damage. However, knowledge of this hasn’t deterred football’s viewers.
“There was a minute there, when [Brandon] Merriweather was lying motionless on the ground, when I thought to myself, ‘Jesus, he’s not going to remember the names of his loved ones in 20 years,’” said Brister, who is also aware that repeated hits to the head can cause depression, and that the NFL spent decades attempting to cover up these facts. Brister also acknowledged that Merriweather’s concussion was not the result of a freak accident but the product of the way the game is meant to be played. “Then they returned from commercial and Aaron Rodgers threw this awesome touchdown pass.”
“Seriously, you should have seen it,” said Feldman.
Critics also note that much of the time during a football game is spent doing nothing. A 2010 Wall Street Journal study, which looked at a massive sample size of four games, found that NFL broadcasts contain only 11 minutes of live football. However, these broadcasts almost always last at least three hours, with the excess time filled by replays, shots of people standing around, and commercials.
Despite the criticism, the NFL has experienced a meteoric rise to become the most watched television program in America. Though it is mostly played on Sundays, the game receives week-long coverage on ESPN, the most watched cable network.
At press time, Brister, Feldman, and their roommates were watching a game between teams they “didn’t even care about.”