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Even Though It's April, Sports Headlines Scream Football

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Never mind that we're in baseball season as well as the season of pro basketball and hockey playoffs. USA Today columnist Christine Brennan tells us that in America, there is still just one sport.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: It's April, but the sports headlines scream football. Tom Brady's four-game NFL suspension for Deflategate has been reinstated by a federal appeals court. Yes, Deflategate is back. Johnny Manziel, the former Cleveland Browns quarterback, has been indicted on a domestic violence charge after allegedly hitting his girlfriend several times. Two young college players - Jared Goff of California and Carson Wentz of North Dakota State - Are about to be selected at the top of the 2016 NFL draft. So what season is this anyway? It's football season in America, sports fans. It always is.

The NFL, not Major League Baseball, is our real national pastime. Oh, millions upon millions of fans will go to the baseball games this spring and summer. I'll be among them. I love baseball in the summertime. There's nothing better. Well, except for going to a football game in the fall - Or actually just watching it on TV. I'm speaking for the American sports fan here, not necessarily myself. The numbers bear this out. Sports TV ratings are at their highest for the National Football League, with college football not too far behind for its biggest games. And nothing gets close to the Super Bowl - Always the most-watched show on TV every year.

The NFL off-season lasted less than three months. And now here comes the NFL draft Thursday night, live from Chicago. In 2014, TV coverage of the draft reached a record 45.7 million people over three days. Those people were not watching anyone throw a pass or make a tackle. They were watching team executives sitting next to a telephone at a table, choosing a young man who then walks on stage and nervously adjusts his new team's cap on top of his head. And then it happens again and again. It's the pro-sports Groundhog Day. But it's also really good reality TV. One of the reasons for the huge ratings in 2014, people couldn't stop watching Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel slip all the way down to the 22nd pick, a slide greased by his off field antics. Turns out he should have slipped all the way out of the draft, but that's another story.

Sports fans, by wide margins, chose to watch that NFL draft drama hour after hour rather than real live sports. The 2014 draft easily beat out two NBA and two NHL playoff games being played that same evening. See what I mean? The NFL is our national pastime. The NFL also spurs on important national conversations. The troubling Manziel news is a continuation of a domestic violence conversation begun after the release, a year and a half ago, of the Ray Rice elevator video - That punch and his punishment, or lack thereof. When something that big happens in the NFL, it instantly becomes conversation fodder for the nation. So maybe football headlines all year 'round do have their place after all.

INSKEEP: Christine Brennan is a sports columnist with USA Today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.