TNF: Thursday Night Failure

Monday Night Football (MNF) is the perfect sidekick to the NFL’s Sunday games. It’s the Luigi to Sunday’s Mario, the Robin to its Batman, the yin to its yang. Then there’s that other night. Thursday Night Football (TNF) is the monstrosity that completely disregards player safety for the sake of making a couple extra bucks. It’s actually around a billion extra bucks. Every monster needs its creator, and TNF is no different. Meet Roger Goodell, the Victor Frankenstein in this story, and the NFL Commissioner.

Thursday Night Football debuted on November 23, 2006, only two months after Roger Goodell officially became the league commissioner. With games already being played on Sunday and Monday, TNF means only four days separates games. This in a sport where men between 200 and 400 pounds tackle each other into the ground.

The NFL has seen some of its biggest stars speak out against TNF. Veterans Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin have both shared their confusion as to why these games even exist, and Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has said the recovery time from Sunday to Thursday is ridiculous. But perhaps former Seattle Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson said it best when he compared TNF games to getting in a car accident and then trying to play two days later.

According to the most recent NFL Health and Safety Report, injury rates for Thursday night games were below those for Sunday and Monday for each of the last four years. However, that report fails to acknowledge the real impact Thursday games have on players. It’s not about the injuries immediately caused in those games. The human body is not built to sustain the physical abuse that comes with playing professional football, especially on only four days of rest. The NFL can continue to release reports about injury rates, but it’s clear these games have a lasting effect on the players’ minds and bodies. Why else would they continue to speak out against the league and TNF? You don’t repeatedly challenge your boss unless their decisions are truly causing you distress.

But why doesn’t the NFL simply schedule this single game on either Friday or Saturday? It actually dates back to an antitrust waiver the NFL was granted by the U.S. Congress in the 1960s. It allows the NFL to act as a monopoly in negotiating television rights, so long as it doesn’t schedule games on Friday or Saturday nights. The NFL is an unstoppable beast of an organization. Its 32 teams are collectively worth almost $63 billion and it pulls in over $10 billion in annual revenue, including the more than four billion dollars of national broadcasting revenue it achieved last season. So let’s do some simple math. Around a billion dollars of revenue from Thursday night games alone and millions saved through the antitrust is obviously greater than player safety, and equals a complete disregard for concerns shared by players.

At the end of the day, the product speaks for itself. Sunday and Monday night games are the most pure depiction of what an NFL game is supposed to look like. Players are rested, coaches are prepared, and the majority of games are exciting from start to finish. Games played on Thursday night are usually a chaotic mess with one team clearly outplaying the other. The average margin of victory in TNF games this year is 12 points, or almost two touchdowns. Those numbers don’t even acknowledge the “garbage time” touchdowns that are scored towards the end of the game.

Simply put, Thursday Night Football is nothing more than a cash grab in a league that has more money than it knows what to do with. It’s not enough the NFL is already recognized as a non-profit organization and is thus exempt from taxes. It’s clearly also willing to risk the safety of its players for ridiculous revenue figures. Surely the league can’t possibly be anymore lucrative though, right? Wrong. Roger Goodell says he hopes the NFL will achieve $25 billion in annual revenue by 2027. Welcome to Tuesday and Wednesday Night Football.