NFL Players Opting Out Exposes Fan Entitlement
The closer we get to the Thursday deadline for players to opt-out of the 2020 season, the longer the growing list of players deciding not to play football during a global pandemic will get.
The Kansas City Chiefs, of course, were a part of national headlines when Laurent Duvernay-Tardif became the first NFL player to elect not to play. A handful of players from other teams around the league soon followed. Damien Williams recently became the second Chief to opt out.
Players choosing to sit out an entire season has, yet again, exposed some of the dumbest, most toxic instincts of fans. There’s an impossibly arrogant entitlement among sports fans when it comes to the performance of athletes. Under every NFL player’s social media announcement of their decision to opt out, you’ll find a people excoriating him for having the gall to be concerned about his family’s long-term health and safety.
You’re not entitled to the talents of athletes. This isn’t a difficult concept. Players are already risking their bodies to play a game for your entertainment. Yes, they also do it for lots and lots of money, but the reason all that money is there is because they entertain you at that ludicrous value.
We saw a microcosm of this with Eric Berry a couple years ago. Fighting through multiple injuries and cancer wasn’t enough for many Chiefs fans. His struggle to return from a perpetually day-to-day heel injury caused a huge chunk of the fanbase to turn on him. Fans’ adoration for their favorite athletes only goes so far as those athletes’ production does.
The truth is that most fans don’t actually care about their favorite players. They care about their team’s iconography and the talent on the field. The men possessing those talents can kick rocks if they aren’t producing the goods.
Now we’re seeing it happen nearly every day as more NFL players opt out of the 2020 season. These fans see them as weak-willed quitters unwilling to fight to play a game through a still mostly-unknown viral threat with mysterious long-term implications. Fans like to see their position relative to athletes as the fat king demanding his jester amuse him with a silly dance.
The same way fans expect their favorite actors, musicians, comedians, etc. to always be "on" for them, they expect their favorite athletes to be athletes almost exclusively. There is a dehumanization of people in sports and entertainment, and no amount of money makes that less exhausting. An athlete's talent is their commodity, but fans conflate athletes' marketable abilities with their entire being.
Which is why, even in the midst of what is becoming one of the most bonkers, trying periods in any of our lifetimes, fans cannot fathom an NFL player having concerns or anxieties about anything other than studying film for next week's opponent.
We’re all just an audience. Yes, our appreciation of athletes’ talents is what allows them the opportunity to become very wealthy. That doesn’t obligate them to perform for us.