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NBA Thrives Where NFL Fails


By Matthew McQuade

The popularity of the NBA is at an all-time high. The league has achieved a truly year-round relevance, something the NFL pioneered but was far less successful at sustaining. It turns out the NBA, with its superstar, recognizable faces and personalities is perfectly suited to combine celebrity entertainment with competitive sport.

The NBA has a social activism component, a fashion scene, and superstar athletes with marketable personalities who are invested in the league. Hell, the NBA even has an awards event akin to the Oscars or Grammy’s, (even if that may be unfortunate for now.) The point is, if you follow the NBA you probably feel like you are part of an intimate club complete with inside jokes and familiar quirks.

The NFL is far more cold despite its attempt to capture the nations attention in the same year-round way. Where the NBA has become a brand recognized as empowering its athletes in a progressive, encouraging, and technologically friendly business environment, the NFL has come off as cold, out-of-touch, greedy, corporate, and at its worst, racially divisive.

The NBA seems to encourage its players to blossom in their media, business, and charitable interests, whereas the NFL treats the same extracurriculars as distractions and inconveniences.


If the contrast seems stark, its well-earned. The largely faceless owners of the NFL have long been happy to sit on their gold piles without meddling in public relations and employee interaction. They have acted as “owners” in the most fundamental definition of the word. The political turmoil the league has experienced in the last few years, (from domestic abuse scandals to Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem) has always provoked a reluctant exhaustion from the owners. As if they are frustrated that they have to deal with the situation at all. You can almost hear them plead, “don’t we have people for this?” as they muddle their way through one public relations blunder after another.

Meanwhile the NBA proceeds unfettered despite an equally socially active roster of talent on the payroll. It is clear that the NBA players feel more invested in their league, more valued as employees and people. Their concerns are not haughtily dismissed and haphazardly disrespected. The NFL player/management relationship recalls the passive-aggressive needling of resentful spouses. And as the antagonism increases, the feeling that a more permanent conflict is just around the corner seems like an inevitability.

Certainly it is easier to manage the smaller rosters of NBA players, whose faces are well-known and recognizable without the concealment of body armor and facemasks. Still the relationship between players and management for the two leagues could not be more different. And the NBA has not been free of its own challenges which the Donald Sterling and Bruce Levenson racism scandals demonstrate. The NBA simply has handled their controversies better and more sincerely.


For years we heard about the inadequate health coverage for former NFL players. Beloved NFL personalities such as Mike Ditka and Terry Bradshaw voiced those concerns on our televisions for years. As the seriousness of CTE and its effects on mental and emotional health continue to reveal themselves, the unfairness of non-guaranteed contracts and comparatively lower player salaries (MLB, NBA, Soccer) seems absurd and serve as further evidence of the titanic greed present in the structure of the NFL. While the Players Union deserves some of the blame for these outcomes, the level of good-faith in negotiations from the owners fails to satisfy a justifiable expectation of decency.

The well documented compensation of the NFL’s commander-in-chief seems preposterous and insulting as well, especially considering the coldness with which he has operated his calculated commissionership for the NFL owners.

Even the fans of the NBA seem to respect the players of their league more than NFL fans respect NFL players and their personal grievances. Tired of political overtones, NFL fans angrily demand for players to “just play”, “protest on their own time, not on the job”, “respect the troops” and other popular social media pleas. In contrast, NBA fans bicker amongst themselves more lightheartedly. The NFL players are treated as though the product they produce with their bodies and health is something we are entitled to as our American birthright. NBA players operate with a different freedom of expression, even when that expression is unpopular or controversial.

Simply put, the NFL can learn a lot from the sudden surge of NBA success. However it feels more and more as if the NFL is rotten with the decay of antiquated assumptions. Similar to Houston Texans owner Bob McNair apologizing for racially insensitive comments only to retract his apology as regrettable, the NFL is flailing for answers it doesn’t understand. And the problem is not going away with the ignorance.

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Comments (1)
  1. Mike says:

    Meaningful and thought provoking points made in this article. Enjoyed it immensely.