Last December, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman wrote a story for the Players’ Tribune entitled “Why I Hate Thursday Night Football” that delivered exactly what it promised. The four-time Pro Bowler laid into the NFL over its midweek games, calling them a “poopfest” and describing how they do not give players enough time to recuperate from contests played just four days earlier. As an example, he cited Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, one of the league’s most marketable and talented players, who reinjured his back during a Thursday night game in Week 3 of the 2016 season. He wouldn’t return until 2017.
On Thursday night against the Cardinals, Sherman ruptured his Achilles’ tendon. A player who hasn’t missed a game since joining the league in 2011 won’t return until 2018.
Sherman wasn’t alone. Seattle left tackle Duane Brown sprained his ankle. Safety Kam Chancellor suffered a stinger. Defensive tackle Jarran Reed left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury. Linebacker Michael Wilhoite suffered a calf injury. Defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson and Frank Clark ran into each other in the fourth quarter, both leaving the game. Running back C.J. Prosise, who had missed most of the previous five games with a right high-ankle sprain, hurt his other ankle.
The Seahawks won, 22-16. No one in their locker room seemed to want to talk about that fact after the game.
“Guys don’t have time to recover,” said Seahawks wideout Doug Baldwin, who hurt his groin during pregame drills but muddled through. “Hard to recover in four days.”
Asked whether all the injuries were Exhibit A as to why Thursday night games are tough on NFL players, Baldwin said: “It’s Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D, Exhibit Z. Thursday night football should be illegal.”
If Thursday night’s bloodletting isn’t the tipping point for the NFL to reconsider its full-season slate of Thursday night games, it’s hard to imagine the calamities that actually will be. At some point, the league will have to consider whether the $1.86 billion it will receive from NBC, CBS, Twitter and Amazon over the course of the two-year Thursday night TV and streaming package — the deal ends after this season — is worth it both in terms of player safety and the competitive decline that results from all these players getting injured.
The players will have to decide, too, because some of that TV money — around $225 million — trickles down to them. Would they give that up?
And the networks might be wary about paying that much ever again. While the NBC and CBS games draw viewership numbers that are strong compared with other networks’ non-football programming on Thursday nights, the ratings have fallen. And, according to the Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand, network executives have informally lobbied the NFL to cut back on the number of Thursday night games from 18 to eight, with the contests broadcast only on the league-owned NFL Network. It’s simply a case of oversaturation.
“I do believe that there is a lot of football on and by the time you get to Sunday, there could be a fatigue,” Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports, told Ourand.
If all this midweek football has become tiring for viewers, just imagine what it’s doing to the players.
“There was guys dropping down on both side with serious, minor injuries,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said after Thursday night’s game. “We play a very physical game, a very physical sport, and to ask us to turn around and be ready after Sunday to turn around and have our bodies okay on that Thursday, it’s really tough to do. I hope the league is watching. Hopefully they’ll look at it and see what happens and change this format.”
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