The NFL is indisputably in a period of tumult, besieged both by controversy around how the game should be played and divisive political issues that frequently have attracted the attention of President Donald Trump.
But New Yorkers who love the sport say they’ll be tuning in when the new season kicks off Thursday, as the Philadelphia Eagles face off against the Atlanta Falcons. Whatever fans’ personal political views or opinions on the game’s violence, their loyalty to the players and love for the game keeps them coming back.
“I love the game,” said Omar Crump, 28, of the Bronx, who said he doesn’t root for any particular team but has favored players, including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. “I know the politics and stuff is going on, and that’s part of it.
“I’m not mad at the NFL, [and I don’t] want to boycott them,” he added, noting the league didn’t create any controversies but is simply trying to respond to them.
Crump said he’s personally pleased to see Colin Kaepernick’s star rise after being shunned by the league for taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback has been featured in a contentious Nike ad, which reportedly will air during the NFL’s opening game Thursday.
He also noted he’s not a big fan of the new “helmet rule,” a safety-minded change that prohibits players from lowing their heads to make contact with opponents, though he is sympathetic to the need to protect players.
“It is hurting the game,” he conceded. “We want to see hard-hitting. … But, I don’t want the players to get hurt.”
Penelope Burns, a passionate Jets fan hailing from the Bronx had the opposite reaction to the helmet rule. Although she plans to keep watching the games, she finds herself conflicted over the violence of the sport and the prevalence of head injuries among players.
“I feel like I can’t celebrate a big hit anymore because I think, ‘How many years did he just take off his life?’ ” mused Burns, 28. “It’s harder for me to reconcile how I can support a sport that’s so violent.”
Burns also said she believes players should be free to kneel during the anthem and finds the conversation around the issue “maddening.”
Still, she will absolutely tune in for the season kickoff, she said, and will likely travel to her parents’ house to enjoy the game with her dad. A self-described passionate person, she loves the feeling of watching her team triumph. Plus, she wants to support the players.
“I support the players, not the corporation,” she said.
Some fans were completely unmoved by the contention either way. One lifelong fan, sporting a Giants tattoo on his forearm, shrugged when asked if the controversies impacted his experience of the game.
“No, not at all,” said Rene Burgos, 58, of Brooklyn, showing off the ‘XLVI’ inscribed above the tattooed Giants helmet, honoring his favorite team’s 2012 Super Bowl victory. His loyalty also belongs to another New York team, he said.
“I’m rooting for the Jets,” he added. “I feel sorry for them.”