NFL fails to address looming issues

National Football League

National Football League

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The National Football League

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The NFL has long been a behemoth in American culture. On Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays, millions of Americans tune in to games, and thousands pony up hundreds of dollars to see the games up close.

With all of this considered, it’s no surprise that the NFL has grown into both a cultural icon and a financial titan worth tens of billions.

More recently, however, the NFL seems to be challenging the notion that an organization can be “too big to fail.” From growing divides between players, owners and fans to concerns about player publicity, the league has seen negative publicity on an unprecedented scale.

The issue of player safety has lingered around football at all levels for some time, and the NFL has made some steps to address it. While there is certainly merit to the idea that not enough has been done and the sport is still extraordinarily violent, the league has actually responded to the issue as effectively as possible from a PR and financial standpoint, even if the amendments of archaic “rub some dirt on it” medical policies and addition of player safety-centric rules are almost certainly not enough to change the sport’s dangerous nature.

Over the past few years, a new problem has become more and more prominent: infighting. Issues including compensation, right to protest and erratic management by the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, have become a fixture on both ESPN and CNN.

Problematically, the NFL has no good options here. This time, they can’t just slap on a few new rules and hope the media moves on.

Even though its recent problems have caused football to lose some of its vice grip, football is still America’s sports culture king. Still, the wage of the average NFL player will always lag behind the average NBA or MLB player.

This fact, while initially counterintuitive, is explained by the fact that the NFL has a much shorter season and employs many more players, leaving a smaller pot and being divided among more people. Players, however, will always feel some animosity when they see average NBA players making millions while putting much less strain on their bodies and minds.

Because of the physical toll football takes on its players, NFL athletes will always struggle to achieve beneficial collective bargaining agreements, or CBAs. In the MLB and NBA, where players have longer careers and are able to play overseas, players can afford to play a waiting game and coerce owners into giving them a bigger piece of the pie.

But in the NFL, where the NFLPA reports the average career length is just 3.3 years, players simply can’t afford to enter a lockout and forgo significant amounts of salary, compounding their compensation issue.

But it seems that the entire nation is more focused on social issues than wages, at least for the time being.

Ever since former San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick began protesting racial injustice by sitting, and later kneeling, during the national anthem before games, the right to protest in the NFL has become a hot button issue. Many Americans, of course, believe that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful, while others support the protests and argue they are an effective platform to advocate for necessary social change.

This issue is, by nature, divisive. Most people have deeply entrenched views on the matter and are unlikely to be swayed by any argument that differs from theirs. These people include the players and owners, who largely support the protests and vehemently oppose them. This situation has proven that there is such thing as bad publicity, as the league has suffered from ratings drops as a result of the protests.

Still, the league is probably making the best business decision by not having a hard stance either way on the issue. While the league has lost some anti-protest voters as a result of inaction, a direct stance in favor of either side would only exacerbate the problem. Here, the NFL is best served to keep playing it right down the middle, even if it pleases nobody.

The NFL can’t afford to stay neutral on their commissioner situation, however. With Roger Goodell’s contract coming to an end. The NFL must realize that the appointment of a new commissioner would be in the best interest of every party. With Goodell’s inconsistent punishments and overall poor decisions, it shouldn’t be very difficult to find a better option.

Currently, owners are discussing whether Goodell should be retained, and it’s shocking that a discussion even needs to be had. His decisions, most importantly, his woefully short suspension of Ray Rice, have created a PR nightmare for the league, and Goodell has done nothing to fix the damage.  Since the Rice suspension, Goodell has given long suspensions with little practical justification to superstars like Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott, leading to prolonged court battles.

It’s become abundantly clear that Goodell is not the right long-term answer for the league. But his spotty judgement has also exposed a more serious flaw in the NFL’s power structure: the lack of checks and balances. As long as a commissioner can act as judge, jury, and executioner, abuses of power will run rampant, players will suffer, and ratings will drop as fans turn on the league.

With all the NFL’s problems, we should just go back to watching college football. It’s better, anyways.

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