Faith Hill Leaves Sunday Night Football. Why Was She There?

Faith Hill leaving Sunday Night Football is interesting mostly because it reminds us that Faith Hill was -- for something like six years -- employed by Sunday Night Football. "This Kiss," and then helmet-to-helmet hits, every week. Counterprogramming, I think they call that.

We've seen cultural institutions move in this direction for decades: First, you look revolutionary. Then you dominate a niche. And then you try your damnedest to escape that niche entirely and pretend you never had it.

MTV is the canonical (and blog-appropriate) example. Today's MTV has in common with the old MTV mostly the desire to say they're The revolutionary MTV as often as they can. Once they controlled music culture, their goal became to control the people who liked the music culture they controlled. (Then, alas, they stopped controlling music.)

They ended up blazing a trail every other cable network in America has followed: First you put your mission statement right in your name: Music, History, Discovery, Learning, Video Hits. Then a crossover hit shows you just how small your niche is. Then you're running 16-hour blocks of cheap shows in which teenagers are surprised to learn there's a baby inside of them, and you have to change your slogan to something like "Because History Is Super Hot Sometimes" or "Learning About Preggo Hoarders Is Still Learning, Man."

Sunday Night Football's connection to Faith Hill was never so tenuous as the World War II channel's connection to pawn shops, but the same mission creep is evident. Faith Hill was brand extension for Sunday Night Football -- she appeals to the demographics that stand off to the side in beer commercials about creating party-hearty man caves out of aluminum cans without being a total departure from the Hank Williams-y history of football intros.

That's not a bad thing, and to achieve MTV-level brand-dilution, the NFL would have to actually stop playing football in favor of airing episodes of Road Rules on the field at University of Phoenix Stadium. But if we want to know who the NFL will announce as her replacement, we have to figure out what purpose she served.

Speaking as someone who found the original choice impressively weird, I think I get it by now -- especially as worries about concussions and the long-term cognitive damage they can cause have put football under a newfound scrutiny.

Nobody was going to watch football because Faith Hill performed the SNF theme song, and nobody was going to not watch it because Faith Hill performed the SNF theme song. But if you're a casual fan who's put off by the concussions and the ads about fat white guys painting their chests and the instant replays of decapitated kick returners, Faith Hill might make you feel a little less like you're not wanted there.

She's like the TV up in the corner of a bar where everybody already seems to know each other, a concession to the uninitiated. No idea who Larry Fitzgerald is? No desire to teach your dog or infant son to belch "It's Miller Time"? Faith Hill is a reminder that you're still a part of the audience.

Which is something nice music can do for us, even when we aren't fans of it.

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