Thursday Night Football debuted 11 years ago, with a partial schedule of games aimed at boosting NFL Network by giving it exclusive game content. Since 2014, the NFL has played Thursday games for most of the season, fueled by a contract with the CBS at first and, since 2016, CBS and NBC.
But short-week football is hardly a new phenomenon. From the inception of the league (and with the exception of 1941 through 1944), the NFL has played football on the fourth Thursday in November. Despite regular complaints about Thursday Night Football, no one ever complained about Thanksgiving football.
Since 1966, the Cowboys have hosted a Thanksgiving game. Owner Jerry Jones commented on the phenomenon of short-week football during a Tuesday appearance on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.
“Well, we’ve been playing on Thursdays with short weeks and long weeks for ever since I’ve been involved in the NFL,” Jones said. “Nothing, not one shred of statistics show it to be a disadvantage, show it to be inordinately challenging physically for the players. We’re the poster child of playing on Thursday [and] as a result what it does to the demand for players being rested or being healthy.”
During a Tuesday media briefing, NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills explained that, over the past five years, the injury rate for Thursday football is actually lower than the injury rate for games played on other days of the week. That’s not a new claim from the NFL. This one was: Dr. Sills said that, of all intervals between games, the period of four days has resulted in the lowest number of injuries.
There’s no reason to doubt the accuracy of that information, but it still misses the point made by many players. Regardless of whether new injuries are incurred on a given Thursday, it’s harder to recover from the general wear and tear of playing football with only four days between games instead of seven.
That’s the one point that continues to be glossed over by the NFL — and by some in the media who blindly defend Thursday Night Football (possibly in the hopes of getting a job with NFL Media). Unless every player who has complained about the recovery time is lying, it’s a legitimate concern.
Maybe the excitement of playing on Thanksgiving made players less willing to gripe before Thursday Night Football became a thing. Maybe the league’s concussion-induced sensitivity to player health and safety over the past eight years has caused players to realize that playing on only four days’ rest isn’t conducive to player health and safety. Regardless, some players will continue to have concerns about Thursday football, no matter how hard the league or some in the media try to dispute them.