“Nothing surprises me anymore in the NFL.” Words from the Tony Brady himself and he couldn’t be more accurate. The NFL is such a dynamic organization. They go through so many ups and downs every single year. Except it never really seems to get better for the league. Through the deteriorating relationship between the owners, the new disastrous rule changes and the termination of entire fan bases, the NFL is suffering and could very soon see its own demise as fans know it today.
The NFL owners and the fans typically have never connected too well. The NFL has a very diverse fan base. From young to old, poverty-ridden to the rich and throughout every single race. The NFL fans are widespread, so why are the owners only a small group of mainly rich white males? Now there are a couple exceptions, such as Shad Kahn, who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars and Virginia Halas McCaskey, who owns the Chicago Bears. Because of the racial, age and status difference, there are a lot of causes a lot of issues between the fans and the owners.
One problem has been the handling of the Colin Kaepernick situation. Back in 2016, Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem for racial injustice in the United States. It caused an absolute uproar from several people, the majority of whom were conservative who thought that he was disrespecting the flag and the country. The way the owners handled this angered both sides of the political spectrum. The NFL owners decided to blackball Colin from ever playing in the league ever again. It has even gone so far that Colin himself has filed a lawsuit against the NFL for collusion between the owners for keeping him off a team according to Sports Illustrated (McCann). There are a lot of fans who think Colin should be allowed to play and that he was just using his first amendment right.
The owners ended up also making the other side angry as well. The people who thought that what Colin did was wrong wanted to see the NFL change their rules so no other players could protest. However, that rule never came to be. More and more players started to protest while they sat back in their comfy recliners and did nothing about it. This reaction from them about this ordeal lead to a massive ratings drop in 2017. Daniel Rapaport from SI.com reported that there was as much as a 10% drop in viewership from 2016 to 2017. He claimed that this was because of a combination of star players being out, such as JJ Watt and the political climate at the time stemming from the Colin Kaepernick situation.
It just shows how out of touch the owners are. If the NFL really wants to aim at making sure the fans are happy, they could at least make sure that the owners actually know how their fans feel instead of only listening to themselves.
Second, the NFL has passed a dangerous new rule. On March 25 through the 28, the NFL owners had their annual league meeting in Orlando, Florida. These meetings are a time for the owners and commissioner, Roger Goodell, to meet and discuss and vote on various new rule changes and various issues that may come up throughout the year, such as a team wanting to relocate. Most of the rules they pass tend to not be that meaningful and would not have too crazy of an impact on how the games were conducted; however, one rule they passed this year could prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for the NFL.
The owners passed a new rule that will result in a penalty flag being thrown if a player lowers his helmet to initiate contact. At face value, this rule does not sound like an awful idea, but diving into the film For The Win shows how it is clear to see just how dangerous this rule can be. Steven Ruiz broke down the first half of the Week 13 matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals. He found that out of 75 first half plays, he found 39 possible penalties on 24 different plays. The game being extended for possibly hours is just one of the many negative effects this rule could bring on. Who would want to pay all of that money to sit in an uncomfortable seat for hours on hours and barely get to see any football? It will lead to a slow decline in ticket sales and an even bigger ratings drop, which would be detrimental to the NFL.
Players are also irate about the rule. New York Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison took to Twitter to voice his opinion on the rule. “Offensive lineman and running backs are the absolute worst with this. Never seems to be mentioned though. Anything to raise the score of games I guess.” (Harrison) If players and fans do not like the rule, then why would the owners pass it? Maybe to try to extend games to bring in more revenue from televised games? To convince the fans to feel the need to spend more money on concessions since they are going to be there for longer now? To try to stop concussions maybe?
While trying to prevent concussions is a great idea, this rule is not the way to go about it. The NFL has been trying to limit concussions for a while now, so they are hoping this rule will help fix some of those issues. What they fail to realize is just how long it will take for this rule to actually start seeing results. These players are taught these tackling techniques from a very young age. One of those being to lower your helmet when going for the tackle. It is a natural football play.
Now since this rule has been agreed upon, it will have to try to stop youth players from learning that way of tackling and hope that they carry that with themselves till they make it pro. All these current NFL players would have to completely rewire their minds just to try to keep up with this rule. It has been so natural for most of the players to lower their head whenever they are expecting contact. It is a natural reaction while bracing for impact and something they have been taught since such a young age. Most players won’t be able to conform to the rule, and so there might be a mass exodus of players to go somewhere where they can make football plays, such as the XFL and the AAF.
If the NFL was really interested in protecting players from concussions they would take more steps into research for better equipment. The helmets are nearly there, with the Schutt F-7 being rated one of the top helmets in the game. What needs to be focused on is the turf. According to Dr. David Geier, the amount of concussions are pretty evenly dispersed throughout every situation, which means there’s an even distribution between concussions that are caused from helmet to helmet hits as helmet to ground hits. There are ways to combat the issues of concussions without needing to change fundamental rules of the game.
The final reason why the NFL is failing is the fact that teams are eliminating entire fan bases. There has seemed to be an alarming trend with teams relocating. Since the Cleveland Browns moved in 1995, there have been six different teams that have relocated. That is even including three teams who have moved in the past two years. Teams typically move because they want a new stadium and the city won’t pay for it. Another reason that teams move is that the owner straight up does not like the city. The problem is that sometimes teams use the threat of relocation to exploit the fans. They demand that their cities increase taxes to be able to fund new stadiums. Even though most of the time, they do not need it. These stadiums just get old and owners see new plans they have and want to make their stadium look the best. These moves end up cutting off some of the most devoted fans in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns, St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and the Oakland Raiders have all killed off fans that are some of the most loyal in the world. The fans are the lifeblood of the NFL. They are the reason the NFL is what it is today. Eliminating these fan bases is the worst thing the NFL could ever do. Yet, they let it happen, over and over again. Just for a new shiny stadium. These teams then have to go and build entirely new fan bases wherever they choose to move. The NFL allows these teams to move which builds even more distrust in the league that is already suffering enough.
The NFL needs to try to diversify its owner group. This is a little tricky since the NFL cannot really fire an owner just because they need to diversify, however, they can take ownership away if the owner says or does something that would smear the NFL, such as the Houston Texans owner referring to his players as “prisoners” when discussing his disgust with his players kneeling. The best way to help fix the concussion epidemic is to invest more money into researching new helmet and turf technology, not trying to change the way football is played. Finally, to stop eliminating entire fan bases, all teams have to do is just vote down a team wanting to move. It is not that hard at all. These are the changes the NFL needs to change in order to try to stay afloat.