It’s time for the NFL to eliminate the Pro Bowl game


Photo courtesy of Flickr

Fans and Players alike prepare for a patriotic celebration before the 2018 Pro Bowl game. The NFL is reportedly considering canceling the Pro Bowl game due to a myriad of issues that have plagued the annual event for years.

At the end of the NFL season, football players, fans and coaches have the unique ability to nominate the most outstanding players across the game to be selected to their league’s Pro Bowl team. As a result of this Pro Bowl selection, these outstanding athletes have the opportunity to spend time with their peers and devoted fans who turn out to watch them play in the annual Pro Bowl game each year.

In recent years, however, the game has garnered criticism from many due to its growing number issues ranging from a lack of effort put in by attending players due to fear of injury to many players declining to attend the event at all. With viewership declining to levels below even regular season games for the most recent games, ESPN has reported that the NFL is considering dropping the Pro Bowl game altogether as soon as the 2023 season.

While it may be difficult to see such a staple of the football season go, the NFL should make the decision to eliminate the Pro Bowl for a multitude of reasons.

First, it is abundantly clear that the players – whom the Pro Bowl is supposed to showcase on a national stage – do not want to participate in the Pro Bowl. To incentivize Pro Bowl-selected players to participate in the game, the NFL offers financial compensation in the form of cash bonuses. For the 2022 game, all players on the winning team are awarded $80,000, while those on the losing team receive $40,000.

With contracts getting larger and larger each year, those relatively pitiful numbers are far below the amount that players earn per regular season or postseason game. As an incentive to convince players to participate in the game, these cash bonuses fail miserably.

In the 2022 Pro Bowl game, faces of the league such as Aaron Donald, Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson were just three of 25 players who all declined to play in the game. Oftentimes, many players who turn down their invitation are participating in the Super Bowl that takes place just a week later, which, especially given its proximity to the Pro Bowl game, can make the Pro Bowl seem downright irrelevant.

The players that do decline, however, are not without reason.

There is a significant risk of injury in any NFL game, and the Pro Bowl is no exception. In 1999, star rookie running back Robert Edwards blew out his knee participating in a Pro Bowl week flag football game, which derailed his promising career before it had a chance to get off the ground. Faced with the prospect of incurring an injury, the only alternative to risking one’s well-being playing in the Pro Bowl without declining the invitation is to participate in the football game, but not play the game of football.

Most participants have taken this route, which has resulted in most of the games of the past several years being hardly recognizable to the actual game of football. Players aren’t tackled so much as they are wrapped up or gently pushed to the ground. Defensive linemen, rather than trying to get to the backfield and sack the quarterback, halfheartedly push their way forward against an opposing group of offensive linemen who do little more than shanty over to protect their QB they just met a few days ago. It is truly a movable object meeting a stoppable force.

A change made in recent years may point to what the NFL could do to keep the Pro Bowl event alive without holding the actual game. In 2017, the league held the inaugural Skills Showdown, where skill position players compete in specialized events to show off their elite athletic abilities, such as quarterbacks trying to hit moving targets to earn points and running backs and wide receivers racing through an obstacle course. This event is much more engaging to view from the perspective of the audience, but more importantly it showcases the players being themselves and having a good time with one another, creating a closely woven experience for players and fans to get to know more about some of the incredible athletes that make up the National Football League.

The substantial number of stars that decline to participate in the game and the low level of play makes the Pro Bowl game a relative snoozefest that barely resembles the hard fought, passionate game that we know and love. It would be best for both the players and viewers as a whole if the league scrapped the Pro Bowl Game and replaced it with an expanded skills competition, an event that has proven itself to be much more deserving of our attention than the game that follows it.

Perhaps seven time Super Bowl champion and future hall of famer Tom Brady summed up the attitude many have towards the Pro Bowl perfectly in a comment made to teammate Brandon Spikes.

“You think I play this s— to go to Pro Bowls?” Spikes said.