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Sunday, 1 February 2015

What Will be the Biggest Topic of the NFL in the Off-season?

COMMENTARY - Roger Goodell faced arguably the toughest year in the NFL that any commissioner has faced.

This wasn’t a season where expansion or the combination of two football leagues merging or the battle of Pete Rozelle and Al Davis over the right to move to Los Angeles or even about the breaking own of the NFL locker room as was the case in Miami last season.

Goodell was taxed with issues that struck the core of the NFL and the outside world, which went beyond bullying to child and domestic violence, the issues of potential expansion and the need for the league to come to some consensus on head injuries, trauma and support for the players after they hand up their helmets.

Goodell and the NFL are still king of the mountain when it comes to pro football being the best thing going today – reaching the masses in far greater ways than it ever has. But the tragedy of letting loose ends on serious topics have soiled what at times appears to be a bulletproof existence.

The NFL has an NFL problem.

As Goodell stood at the podium early this week and gave the State of the League Address, the tone was more about what was wrong rather than what was right. On the day of the biggest game of the year and the potentially the best Super Bowl of all time, the NFL is better than it was a year ago because of awareness, not because of correction. The Ray Rice case and debacle, followed by Adrian Peterson’s fall from grace just compounded the fact professional football has become more of a symptom of society where entitlement seems to be the norm rather than the appointed.

Can the league fix the fractured image of violence off the field with the ads of current players and celebrities that looks about as awkward as Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan laughing together? Can issues like “Deflategate” and illegal blocking be avoided? Will there be uniformity for illegalities across the board next season? And most of all, if the league is truly talking about expansion or movement to Los Angeles and Goodell knows there are four or five teams that may be in the mix, can he just tell us which teams they are so there is no call of B.S. on any level.

Goodell’s hard line stance was proven in the player lockout in 2012 and his reputation as a leader has been questioned and even challenged by the players and the league as a whole, not to mention the media that continues to wait for straight answers, not blinding avoidance at every turn. The lawyer in Goodell knows how to get around these issues. The leader in Goodell knows he must avoid these topics to remain free from scrutiny.

ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd once said the NFL is made up of 32 teams that are really 8-8. Some fall below that line to 4-12, others rise to 12-4. The league is getting closer to parity each year, with this season proving a sub .500 team can make the playoffs and make some noise.

Soon, the game will be gone of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Frank Gore and Adam Vinatieri. New stars are emerging like JJ Watt, Dez Bryant and Teddy Bridgewater. The league needs these stars to step forward, create more rivalries and yes, become the face of the NFL. This is a league that worries more about the name on the front of the jersey than the player on the back. Unfortunately, fans identify with players first, teams second.

You cannot fix that in a day as social media, the age of electronics and the need for revenue are changing NFL and sports sensibilities. But issues like domestic violence and child abuse and even entitlement soil what is really the best thing going today.

So as the off-season begins as soon as the last whistle is blown on Sunday, can the NFL and Goodell say they are better than a year ago? The dollars and cents ma say so. But does the product off the field improve the product on the field? That is the question Goodell and the NFL have to ask themselves this off-season.


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