Training camp is a love-hate affair for players. Nevertheless, for the fans that make the NFL America’s game, it’s all-out euphoria. In 2001 HBO developed an award-winning documentary called Hard Knocks. With the sport growing in popularity, Hard Knocks‘ creators capitalized on the curiosity of fans by taking an in-depth look at what training camp is like and what the business of football is all about.
As a player who’s been on the show (Cincinnati Bengals, 2009) I can remember hearing Bengals coach Marvin Lewis announce that we would be on the show. The news elicited mixed reviews from players. Cameras prying and guys being mic’d up could be a distraction, and we talked about that. Most guys watched the show and liked it, however we were unsure about being on the show and having the world see dirty laundry being aired. After a few days, the cameras became flies on the wall. We didn’t notice because, let’s be honest, our focus was on making the team and preparing for the season.
When it aired, the anxiety about people not seeing our polished product was over and guys laughed at each other and enjoyed it. Although I can remember some guys feeling like their stories had gotten twisted. For example, I recall my then teammate getting a hard time because of his weight struggles. He came to camp overweight and while working to get in shape to practice he gained more weight. Needless to say, he thought they weren’t going to air that. For the most part I felt like Hard Knocks did a decent job of portraying what goes on in training camp when 100 guys are whittled down to 53. The biggest thing the show does is give people who aren’t knowledgeable about the game a peek into the less glamorous side of being a football player. I think some fans think we practice for a few hours a week and show up on Sundays. Does the documentary series have its limitations? Sure, but let’s not forget it’s a show about the most popular sport in the U.S. and is meant to entertain.
Keith Rivers is in his seventh year in the NFL and currently plays linebacker for the Buffalo Bills. He was drafted ninth overall in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in Policy, Planning and Development.