America's drug of choice could well be the NFL. No other sport has users clamoring for 365 days of coverage like the NFL. Debates rage over teams, cities and players on a regular basis. No sport has integrated the fan experience more than the NFL, with fantasy sports, making fans feel closer to the game. The fans' need for constant, warrior like action isn't met by other sport. Not even the NBA's nonstop action can compete. The NHL and Rugby definitely could contend with the warrior atmosphere, but nothing resonates quite like the action on the gridiron.
This in large part has to do with the product on and off the field. The NFL has become a juggernaut in the U.S. and worldwide. Through its marketing and stylized action, the league is everywhere and eyes get glued to what's going on. There's no escaping the game and few fans are complaining.
Yet, the NFL does have its share of problems. The league has acknowledged some and others are being resolved. For the ones receiving attention, there is more to address before they could be seen as fixed. Other issues are being down played or outright ignored. The league has time to change or correct any wrongdoings. However, when the league has glaring problems when will they finally act? Hopefully it won't take a player dying on the field, ending their own life or a racist action to do so. However, at this point, America's pastime has some work to do before it can say it has its act together.
5 Head Injuries
Far and away, the NFL has been the most scrutinized league in American sports for its handling of players' head injuries. The pressure has come down on them for handling current and retired players. This creates a current and back logged problem the league must fix.
Many players claim that the league did not properly inform them that returning to the field after a head injury could lead to permanent brain damage later in life. This led to a 2013 lawsuit from five former Kansas City Chiefs players that are now suing the team. This is a separate case from the “Concussion Case,” where the NFL settled with numerous players across the league for more the $750 million dollars.
A large number of players do not do themselves any favors by playing through these injuries. The fear they have of losing their job to a backup keeps many players quiet. The NFL can't receive all the scrutiny on this, but the liability does fall on them. While they have made changes to the rules to protect players' heads, these hits are now going to other parts of the body. It's yet to be confirmed, but this could create a new problem for the league and players down the line.
4 Bullying And Hazing
Some people make bullying out to be a joke, as if it weren't a real problem. Others have made everything from friendly teasing to innocent name calling out to be bullying. What went on in the Miami Dolphins locker room was more than that. It was bullying.
Some players and personnel have said Miami was a rogue, escalated incident. Many unnamed players said that teams have their fun with rookies and other teammates. Unfortunately for them, that aspect of team bonding is no longer allowed for anyone. The league is better off this way. Now they must ensure that it stays that way.
This could lead to teams being more quiet about their actions. Hopefully, most will realize that this type of action is archaic to team bonding. Imagine arriving to your first day of high school or college to only have the people you are supposed to be friends with harass you to the point of breaking down.
Now, while you are getting adjusted to a whole new life for yourself, you are on edge due to the veterans initiating you. If you're not prepared, or don't have the type of mentality suited for that environment, you could be in trouble. That is what happened to Jonathan Martin. If hazing and bullying is dumb for Greek organizations, so is it for the NFL. The league is a fraternity of athletes, not richer-than-thou frat boys. It will be interesting to see how the league polices this problem going forward.
3 Imbalanced Racism
The most unfortunately laughable thing on the NFL's list of problems is its imbalanced approach to racism. Last season, the league sat back while the Philadelphia Eagles and Riley Cooper dealt with his use of the N-word at a Kenny Chesney concert.
The next offseason, the league decided it was going to curtail this problem (That didn't happen on the field) by banning the use of the N-word on the field. This move was dropped during summer meetings, wisely. Maybe they decided this after hearing comments from players like Richard Sherman. He furthered his stance when discussing the NFL's hypothetical approach to the Donald Sterling debacle,
“No I don't. Because we have an NFL team called the Redskins. I don't think the NFL really is as concerned as they show. The NFL is more of a bottom line league. If it doesn't affect their bottom line, they're not as concerned.”
Which is the elephant in the room. Until the NFL does something to address the racist moniker of Washington's franchise, then they have no moral ground to stand on. Watching Roger Goodell use the history defense during his draft day interview with ESPN was disgusting.
If the league had a franchise with a slur towards African Americans, people of Jewish heritage or any other large group do you think that name would still be in use? Unfortunately, after Goodell's interview, this problem will probably be around for some time. Even if the government gets involved.
2 Expansion Attempts
Rule changes and expansion attempts, that's what the modern NFL does! Whether fans want it or not, these changes seem like they are going to happen. Good luck having your opinion matter, NFL players. When a new NFL owner wants a new stadium, what do they do? Tease a move to L.A. to expand the NFL's brand some more. When the league wants more money, what do they do? Consider expanding the season some more! The NFL has seemingly adopted an idea that if it's broke, don't touch it. If it's not broken, fix it.
When it's not an attempted playoff expansion, it's a franchise in London. Whether it's the league, the owners or a combination of the two pulling the strings on this they need to stop for a second. The league has pressing issues already. They are going to open a powder keg of trouble with expansion. Not only will travel and scheduling be a nightmare with a European team.
The league will also have a severe headache regarding players' contracts with extra games added to the regular and/or postseason. For sure, the league has considered these issues. Yet, when looking at the NFL in recent years, it's hard to take their best judgement for much.
1 Watered Down Product
On one certain week this season, the NFL will run with programming from Thursday night until the next Monday. Albeit, that will only be during week 16. Yet, when is too much of a good thing a problem? Some are starting to think the NFL is already there. Sure, other sports run almost the entire week. The difference with that is that the NFL dominates major broadcasting, while the other sports only broadcast on minimal national times. Fox, NBC, and CBS will be in control of most of the games, while the NFL Network and ESPN handle the rest. This becomes a lot of product to put out. Some of which is not all that good.
Let's face it: Most Thursday night games are awful to watch. The major reason is because players don't have time to recover from the week before. Reggie Bush stated the feelings of many players last year when he said,
“...Like literally every time you’re getting hit is like being in a car crash. Imagine as a running back you’re getting hit – I touched the ball at least 20 to 30 times a game, that’s 20 to 30 car crashes you’re in in two hours. It’s tough to get your body back ready that quick for a game on Thursday.”
While the NFL considers their cash grab, they seem to neglect the players' recovery and their performances. The majority of fans have seemed to not mind the decline in quality as it satisfies their desire for more football. Until we see further declined play or increased comments from the players, this issue will most likely linger.