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Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The NFL Still Has A Football Problem On Its Hands

COMMENTARY - I wrote a bit about this before in an article that appeared over Super Bowl week, but in all honesty, it bears repeating. The NFL has a football problem and that problem was never more exposed than with the “Deflategate” saga that has unfolded.

The unfortunate thing in all of this is that more teams will continue to find ways to cheat and try to get away with it. One of the NFL’s more polarizing figures – Tom Brady – allegedly lied about being involved in a scheme to win a football game when the fact of the matter is my high school team could have beaten the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Title game.

Sorry, guys. I know the truth kind of hurts, but I had to say it.

Football has never been a game of whispers and golf claps, but it has assuredly seen better days.

As I wrote on February 1 for Football Nation, covering Roger Goodell’s State of the NFL Address…

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.

Right now, my answer to the question of issues like this being avoided is a resounding, “NO.”

Football is not like baseball where for over a century there is the known “secret” that there is some amount of cheating that goes on (stealing signs, etc.) but the goal is not to get caught. Cases like “Deflategate” and “Spygate” involving the Patriots have been so blatant. Let’s not leave out New Orleans and “Bountygate” because the franchise wasn’t innocent by any means. There is no straight line for punishment in the “No Fun League” so players and teams push the edge of the envelope to see how far they can get before they are told to stop.

Frankly, Brady’s punishment and the Patriots organization as a whole was too light. The Saints – regardless of the rise from Hurricane Katrina story – is not one of the NFL’s darlings. Tom Brady, the Patriots, Green Bay, Dallas and Peyton Manning. We can start there and continue on.

I am a football fan first and a sports writer second. My love for the game causes me to write this article of pain. Actually, I am more pissed off. The Patriots win in Super Bowl 49, no matter how jaw-dropping and climactic it was, has to be tainted. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the organization are now stained AGAIN. No matter how hard we as fans cry foul, there are fans out there who see nothing wrong with this – just like they see nothing wrong with the cases involving Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy. Brady is still headed for sainthood in Boston.

The NFL wouldn’t dare suspend its darling for the entire season and the $1 million slap on the wrist is actually being thought of as a joke by the fans who have started a GoFundMe campaign to pay the debt to the NFL. PLEASE ALREADY!

Soon, the game will be gone of Manning, 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.

And in this case, it seems you cannot get the stars we hold in such high regard from cheating to win a damn football game. What a stain this is for what has become America’s game.


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