I unabashedly love the NFL. I love the screaming jets overhead at the onset of games. I love the speculation that is only right 5% of the time. I love that the NFL is a modern day coliseum rife with gladiators going at war with each other every Sunday, but with all of the things that make me love the NFL, it’s impossible to deny all of the blemishes on its record.
Individual players get a lot of the negative attention, and it’s to see why. Aaron Hernandez gained national attention when he was prosecuted for first-degree murder, and of course there’s also the case where it was revealed that Michael Vick was behind a violent dog-fighting ring, but the NFL has more to answer for than a few cases of isolated incidents regarding individual players.
The fact is the NFL is a national institution, and the people in charge are some of the most powerful people in sports. In fact, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have both named Commissioner Roger Goodell as the most powerful man in sports.
You don’t get to such a position of power without doing some morally questionable things, and the NFL is no different. In fact there are a lot of aspects to the NFL that will make you downright angry. Here are 15 reasons why you should hate the NFL.
You have to be living under a rock to not have heard of Deflategate, and after a full two years after the revelation that Tom Brady allegedly slightly deflated a football before the 2014 AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, is ongoing. The whole debacle is best summed up by a dream Cartman has in South Park (NSFW language). There are a lot of angles to this story, and none of them are particularly admirable. Brady was accused of persuading the equipment attendants of deflating the footballs below the minimum standard so he would be able to have a better grip on the ball. After Ted Wells investigated the claims, Roger Goodell suspended Brady for four games in 2015. Brady won an appeal, and was able to play all 16 regular season games, but Goodell implemented another suspension against Brady for the beginning of the 2016 season. Brady appealed again, but this time he lost, so it looks like he'll have to sit for four game. If you’re anything like me, you just want this ridiculous argument to be put to bed, no matter what side of the argument you fall on.
14 Blacking Out Broadcasts
This is one item on this list that the NFL seems to have rectified, but they have yet to make a long term commitment. Before the 2015, the NFL had the strictest blackout policy in all of the major league American sports. The rule was the NFL would blackout games in the local market if the game hadn’t sold out 72 hours before the game. This means that even if a game did sell out by kick off, the local market wouldn’t be able to watch it on TV. Before 1973, the NFL would black out all broadcasts of local teams, regardless of whether the game was sold out or not. The U.S. Congress actually had to step in and pass a law limiting it to 72 hours. In 2015 the NFL lifted its blackout policy and decided to extend it to 2016. My guess is that they haven’t made any long term commitments because they’re doing some market research, but if it’s proven the NFL makes more money with the blackout policy on, you can expect to see it being enacted again.
13 Average Career Length
It seems like most NFL players have long and illustrious careers. With the media focusing on the great players like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre having careers of well over 10 years, it’s easy to see why.
The reality is that the average career of an NFL player is only 3 years. The reason for the short career length can be exemplified with the tragic case of Johnny Knox. Knox was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2009, and despite being drafted in the fifth round, he showed promise. He even made it as starting to slot back for the Bears. On December 18, 2011 Knox was injured when returning a kick against the Seattle Seahawks. He was carted off the field with a spinal injury. The Bears kept Knox on the roster so he could use their training facility to recover, but it should be noted that this courtesy was not a requirement. If the Bears had chosen to cut Knox after his career ending injury, then he would have been left with a shattered career and monstrous medical bills. We see the flashy stuff, but in reality, NFL careers are mostly short lived and dangerous.
12 NFL Pushing For 18 Games
NFL teams play 16 regular season games, but if it were up to the owners and the front office, it would be 18. Players already risk getting injured throughout a 16 game season, but if games were to be increased to 18 games, seasons could potentially be 22 games. The NFLPA (The NFL Players Association) has repeatedly shot down the concept of an 18 games season, but the NFL just doesn’t seem to want to give it up. The most recent example of this being discussed was during the Super Bowl 50 press conference. Goodell answered a question which indicated that 27% of players are in favor of an 18 game season, and only 18% of fans say they strongly favor an 18 games schedule. Goodell responded by saying the plan was to replace two preseason games with regular season games, but the thing is preseason games don’t have the starters playing to their full potential. In fact, players with locked positions often skip preseason games altogether so they won’t risk injury. It’s not hard to see that an 18 games schedule is purely a money grab.
11 Substance Abuse Policy
Like most professional sports, the NFL has a substance abuse policy. There’s good reason for this, as professional sports maintains a stance against steroids and illegal drug abuse. However, the Substance Abuse Policy begins to look hypocritical upon closer inspection. One of the hardest lines that the NFL draws in their policy is against marijuana. Yes, marijuana is still registered as a Class 1 narcotic, but the tide is clearly changing across the country. The NFL will still suspend a player for an average of four games if they are caught in possession of marijuana, but many players claim that they’re using the drug as pain relief. This could very well be true, and marijuana is likely a safer alternative to the current reality. Recently retired superstar Calvin Johnson has admitted that painkillers were handed out “like candy,” which would seem to indicate that players are being given dangerous amounts of pills just to make it through the week.
Okay, this may be the most inconsequential issue on this list, but it’s the one that has had the most direct impact on my life… although again, pretty inconsequentially. I used to love playing Madden, and while it was always fun to take a crappy team and make them into contenders, my true joy was creating my own team and taking them to the Super Bowl. I enjoyed designing my team’s uniform and stadium, and it was a generally beloved feature.
This customization, along with the development of online gaming, gave the NFL some concerns about their brand. They were concerned that gamers would make a team wear hot pink and call them the Cream Puffs or something, so they demanded that EA Sports take the create a team feature out of the game. I will concede that there could be gamers who name their teams something offensive, but that’s a concern for every online game, and the report function works fine for those cases.
9 Referee Lockout
In 2012, the NFL and the Referee Union failed to come to an agreement and the NFL locked the officials out. This resulted in the NFL employing replacement officials in their place. The replacement officials were just awful, and many claim that they overly influenced the outcomes of games. Some notable examples are in Week 3. In the Vikings – 49ers game, the officials accidentally awarded San Francisco not just one, but two additional challenges even though they were out of timeouts, and of course there’s also the issue with the Packers - Seahawks Monday night game. At the end of the game, Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass to Golden Tate who caught a touchdown and won the game, but after the game the NFL acknowledged that he pushed off the defender which should have garnered a pass interference call and given Green Bay the game. The officials' demands only amounted to $3.2 million, four hundredths of a percent of the NFL’s annual $9 billion income.
8 Not For Profit Status
Up until 2015, the NFL was officially a not for profit company, which could be the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. In 2013, the NFL was paying commissioner Roger Goodell $35 million a year, and there’s something very wrong when the CEO of a not for profit company is making that kind of money. It’s thought that part of the reason the NFL revoked their not for profit status was so Goodell and other executives wouldn’t have to make their salary known to the public, and that could very well be true. Another reason, it’s thought, is to improve the NFL’s public image. It’s a positive move that the NFL made, but definitely too late.
7 NFL Conduct Policy
Goodell was quick to put a conduct policy in place after his appointment as the NFL Commissioner in 2006. The wheels were put in motion quickly after nine Cincinnati Bengals players were arrested in the 2006 off-season. It is commonly regarded that Goodell implemented this policy to save the NFL’s image.
The policy determined that it would be a team’s responsibility to punish transgressions that go against the policy. The policy has been successful in many regards, but former player and current NFL broadcaster Keyshawn Johnson criticized the policy for only targeting players. “What happens if a coach, GM or owner gets a DUI?" Johnson appealed, "Then what? What if an ex-NFL player throws himself through a window in Miami? That still reflects on the NFL's image.”
In 2007, the New England Patriots were caught videotaping the New York Jets sideline, presumably to get a read on their play calling. The Patriots received a slap on the wrist, and no one was suspended. The Pats went on to have a perfect 16-0 regular season in 2008 in case you forgot.
6 Low Hits Are A.O.K
The NFL has a concussion problem, and it’s becoming less and less of a secret. With the concussions being increasingly brought into the spotlight, Goodell and the front office are working on fixing the problem. Their solution has been to increase the severity of punishments against high hits. The penalties now include automatic 15- yard penalties, fines, and potential suspensions. The thinking is this will dissuade players from going for big high hits, and they’ve been successful to a certain degree. The problem is that now players are opting to go low and take out their opponents knees for fear of getting penalized. Football is a very fast game, and players need to make split second decisions, so rather than a mid body tackle which would probably be okay, they’re going low to be on the safe side. These low hits can be just as career threatening as the big concussive hits of yore. As we mentioned before, when an NFL player’s career is cut short, that’s it. There’s no insurance money to collect or any other protective measure. We’re not saying that players should be aiming for the head, just that there needs to be alternative solutions that will be more effective against concussions.
5 An NFL Franchise In London?
The NFL seems to be hell bent on becoming a global market. With the league sending teams to play in Mexico City and Toronto, it first appeared as if they’d just dip their toe into the international pool by first establishing a new team in North America. However, it’s becoming progressively clear that the NFL is chiefly interested in bringing a team to London England. It’s easy to see why the NFL wants to do this. By putting a team in London, they’re tapping into a new continent that is showing serious interest in the NFL. Goodell said that it’s becoming a realistic possibility that London will get its own franchise. The problems with putting an NFL team in London should be evidently logistical, but let's focus on a single potential situation.
The San Diego Chargers are going to need to play the London team sooner or later, and being the most Southwestern team in America, there will be an eight hour time zone difference. In addition to that, they will have to take an exhausting eleven hour flight. Now consider that you’re a player for the London team, you’re going to have to travel for eight away games, each of which will be a minimum seven hour flight (London to New York). This isn’t even considering whether or not London will be able to consistently pack the house with eight games a season, especially if their team doesn’t perform well. It seems like a disaster, but the NFL appears determined to make it happen.
4 The NCAA
The path to becoming an NFL player is set. You play well in high school, a college team scouts you, you perform well in college, and then you get drafted to the NFL. There are a few outliers who deviate from this path, but this is the story for the vast majority of NFL players. With this in consideration, it’s impossible to deny that the NFL and the NCAA are intrinsically tied together. Part of the deal for playing for an NCAA team is that players are contractually obligated to not accept payment or endorsements. Players often receive full scholarships for their education, but with full time practices, meetings and games, they often have a difficult time paying for other stuff like, you know, food. NCAA basketball player Shabazz Napier said that he would have, “hungry nights,” and while he plays a different sport, you have to assume the same goes for football players. Now consider that only 1.6% of NCAA football players make it to the NFL, and you begin to see that there are some kids who are being taken advantage of.
3 The Washington Redskins
We’re having a national debate about institutionalized racism, and while the White House displayed the emblem of the rainbow flag after making gay marriage legal on a federal level, but it’s still okay to have a team have a racially disparaging name in the nation’s capital. Priorities are silly. With the bureaucratic red tape and moral quandaries that come with a lot of these issues, it seems like changing the name of the Washington Redskins would be an easy home run, but owner Dan Snyder has pledged that he’ll NEVER change the name of his team (he wanted the reporter to put it in caps). Some argue that the name is a tribute to Native Americans, while others liken it to the N-word. One thing’s for sure, if Snyder gets his way, this controversy isn’t going to go away for a long time.
2 Domestic Abuse
There seems to be an epidemic in the NFL regarding domestic abuse. Some huge stars have recently been caught in the act, and to its credit the NFL has taken serious strides in punishing players who engage in domestic abuse.
With all this in mind, however, you have to remember back to 2014 when a video that contained running back Ray Rice punching his fiancé (now wife) in the face was leaked onto the internet. The most chilling thing to me wasn't the strike that knocked his fiancé out, but the nonchalant manner in which Rice dragged her out of the elevator.
Goodell was accused of lying when he said he did not see the video of Rice hitting his fiancé, and only acted once the video went public. One could argue that these new policies are meant to bottle up the league's initial inaction.
This has been a developing story in the NFL for many years, but with the release of Concussion starring Will Smith, it is now truly in the spotlight. At face value, the NFL is taking the concussion situation very seriously. They’ve instituted a concussion protocol and are fining players who aim for the head, but it’s recently been revealed that the NFL has been trying to influence and stifle research and development for concussions for many years. In addition to direct influence, the NFL has taken efforts to discredit studies and researchers who have demonstrated the long term effects of repeated shots to the head.
While these actions are morally reprehensible, it’s easy to see why the NFL went to lengths to cover it up. This research doesn’t just affect the profits of the league, but could ultimately threaten its very existence. If it’s discovered that there’s no way to play football safely, then we could begin to see a decline of enrollment of young players, or even congressional action against the sport itself. This is all hypothetical but the concussion situation is a serious threat to the NFL.