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Can the NFL Survive Current Controversies?

August 2, 2018

The NFL returns to prime time. The Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens meet in the Hall of Fame Game (7 p.m., NBC) in Canton, Ohio, ushering in the preseason.

Having come of age with television, the audience for the NFL has declined along with practically every other broadcast. At the same time, it has retained enough of a fanbase to consistently rank among the most-watched programming, attracting tens of millions to big games and more than 100 million viewers to the Super Bowl.

Like everything else, the fall in NFL viewership is best explained by the shrinking number of cable subscribers, the growing number of viewing choices and the changing composition of TV audiences. But some have seen fit to explain its decline in terms of divisive politics.

Football has long been politicized. During the tumultuous Vietnam era, coaches Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi became heroes to a conservative demographic dubbed the “Silent Majority.”

In the other camp, many saw football as the perfect metaphor for a country defined by militarism. In October 1975, comedian George Carlin riffed on the politics of American sports when he hosted the first episode of “Saturday Night Live.”

Carlin saw football as a sport played in stadiums to martial music, encouraging players to march downfield and invade their opponent’s territory. In contrast, he impishly described baseball as a game played in a park where the ultimate goal was coming “home.”

Carlin’s observation notwithstanding, the NFL has a much bigger audience than Major League Baseball. While the NFL will probably survive the current controversies surrounding the national anthem, its long-term prognosis remains in doubt. A growing number of parents discourage their children from playing a sport increasingly identified with brain injuries. Every year brings news of high schools that simply abandon the sport because they cannot field a team. Will people still watch football a generation from now?

Will people still watch “television”?

Other football-related choices include Canadian Football League action between the Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Redblacks (6 p.m., ESPN2) as well as the 13th season opener of “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team” (10 p.m., CMT, TV-PG).

-- It’s taken seven episodes for Sam and Eddie to wake up in bed together on “Take Two” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG). But they can’t remember how they got there! Amnesia!

-- “Bachelorette Weekend” (10 p.m., CMT) follows a company that caters to brides-to-be and their rowdy friends by giving them a weekend to remember in Nashville.

TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

-- “Shahs of Sunset” (8 p.m., Bravo, TV-14) enters its seventh season.

-- The final four face each other on the season finale of “The Four: Battle for Stardom” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

-- Chaos consumes the Crescent City on the season finale of “Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger” (7 p.m., Freeform, TV-14).

-- Two homicides complicate the business on “Snowfall” (9 p.m., FX, TV-MA).

-- African-American writers and editors share gossip and celebrity news on “Bossip on WE TV” (9 p.m., TV-14).

CULT CHOICE

Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are upstaged by a talking pug in the 1997 spoof “Men in Black” (7 p.m., AMC) and its 2002 sequel “Men in Black II” (9:05 p.m., AMC).

SERIES NOTES

Leonard asks for criticism and gets it on “The Big Bang Theory” (7 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) ... Rob Riggle guest-judges on “The Gong Show” (7 p.m. ABC, TV-PG) ... Jim Beaver guest-stars on “Supernatural” (7 p.m., CW, r, TV-14) ... Fear of germs on “Young Sheldon” (7:30 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG).

Julie Chen hosts “Big Brother” (8 p.m., CBS) ... Alec Baldwin hosts “The Match Game” (8 p.m., ABC, r, TV-14) ... Secrets emerge on “Black Lightning” (8 p.m., CW, r, TV-14) ... Hondo unmasks a drug kingpin on “S.W.A.T.” (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).

LATE NIGHT

A$AP Rocky is booked on “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” (10 p.m., Comedy Central) ... Jodie Foster, Flula Borg and Neko Case appear on “Conan” (10 p.m., TBS, r) ... Chloe Grace Moretz and Bobcat Goldthwait are booked on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jimmy Fallon welcomes Ray Romano, Lauren Miller and Leon Bridges on “The Tonight Show” (10:34 p.m., NBC) ... Bret Baier and Courtney Barnett appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (10:35 p.m., ABC). ... Ewan McGregor, Ann Dowd and Taylor Gordon visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (11:37 p.m., NBC) ... Sean “Diddy” Combs, Ashton Kutcher and BTS appear on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (11:35 p.m., CBS, r).

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