On paper, the NFL’s Pro Bowl seems like it has all the makings of a good game. It takes the top players in the league at every position and splits them into two teams to battle it out in a clash of the greats. The harsh reality is that the Pro Bowl is overshadowed by lackluster effort, a flawed voting system and players who don’t even care to attend, turning what sounds like a great game into something only slightly more entertaining than a preseason contest. With rumors circulating of the game being on the chopping block for years, it’s time the NFL finally gets rid of its most meaningless event.
The Pro Bowl prides itself on bringing together the best of the best, but a large number of the game’s most elite players decline their invitation every year, leaving the NFL to fill their spots with less impactful players. The initial Pro Bowl roster released on Dec. 22 elected only 86 of the league’s greatest stars. However, due to the game being played the weekend before the Super Bowl, none of the Panthers’ 10 players, or the Broncos’ four were able to attend. In addition, many other athletes declined due to injuries sustained during the season. This year has seen over 133 players invited, the most in NFL history as the league is digging deep to fill the spots of everyone backing out. What was once a prestigious group of athletes has turned into a search for whoever is willing to accept an invitation.
No other position has seen more players back out than at quarterback, as none of them seem to want anything to do with the game. Of the original six signal callers selected, only Seattle’s Russell Wilson remains. Get rid of the likes of MVP quarterback candidates like Carolina’s Cam Newton, New England’s Tom Brady and Arizona’s Carson Palmer, and you are left watching the two teams decide between Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor, Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston and Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater, respectively. Those three may be the future of this league, but do they really represent the NFL’s best right now?
The All-Pro list is voted on by experts who know football inside and out, but it’s no secret the Pro Bowl selection process is handled entirely by fans, making it more of a popularity contest than anything else. Take for instance, Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson, who took the league by storm this year. He tied for first among his peers in touchdown receptions with 14, while also hauling in the sixth most yards receiving at 1,400. Yet his reward for being one of the best at his position was being snubbed from the initial Pro Bowl list. On the other hand, Detroit’s fan-favorite wide receiver Calvin Johnson put up noticeably weaker stats, with nine touchdowns and 1,214 receiving yards, and still got the nod over Robinson. Though Robinson managed to get in when Johnson declined his invitation, it shows how meaningless the voting process is.
Of all the problems with the current Pro Bowl format, the clear lack of effort from players is the game’s Achilles’ heel. It only takes making the mistake of watching a Pro Bowl once to see safeties backing out of coverage mid play, or when wide receivers run half speed down the field. It has become so blatantly obvious that the players simply aren’t motivated to win the game. From a financial standpoint, no athlete wants to risk a potentially career threatening injury for a meager victory prize. Last year, the winners found themselves with only $55,000, while the losers walked away with $28,000. During the regular season, players are fighting to earn their roster spots, stamp their tickets to the playoffs and earn bigger contracts. In the Pro Bowl, none of those key motivational aspects come into play. As long as the game remains meaningless, the Pro Bowl will remain an eyesore for viewers.
Recent changes have been made to try and salvage the game. The NFL mulled over the idea of ending the game for years until 2014, when the classic AFC vs. NFC format was ended. Instead, the game now features a dull fantasy draft between team captains, as the NFL continues to try and hype its most boring game. The format change still hasn’t paid off, as interest in the event, from players and fans alike, continues to freefall every year.
It’s time for the NFL to finally cut their losses, and put the Pro Bowl out of its misery. It has become a laughing stock compared to other all-star games in professional sports. The Pro Bowl is nothing but a popularity contest where players go to play without even trying to break a sweat. No amount of changes can be made to the game at this point because no matter what, elite players will never want to risk injury for a meaningless match up. At the end of the day, the NFL needs to turn their attention away from this pointless game, and instead put their focus on the only match that is important this time of the year: the Super Bowl.