An Open Letter to the NFL (Long Read)
I'm coming to the point where I don't know what this sport is anymore. I watch most every game that's televised each week & have for years so I consider myself more than a casual fan. Now, while I may miss a game here and there when life gets in the way, I feel as though I have a pretty good idea what's going on within the NFL & the rules that govern. I love this sport but I'm slowly becoming disenfranchised for a myriad of reasons and feel as though I'm not alone. The worst part is even though it's reasons which you as the NFL can fully control you're making the wrong choices. Starting with the fight for money this last summer that you felt fit to try to frame in a meaningful manner when people across your fan base are losing their livelihoods & their homes. This group includes those who work at some capacity for the NFL who lost things important to them as a direct result of your choice to sit it out and fight over money when nobody in the fight was going to miss a meal or not be able to pay a bill as result. That doesn't wreak of losing touch with reality at all. When the average fan is the blue collar working man you should try harder to not come off as pompous and out of touch of what's important in life.
Let's move past that for a moment and talk about what you're doing with the game that I love so much. Let's start with what constitutes a pass, a catch and a touchdown these days. Nobody knows. Not even your own officials. Calvin Johnson's catch against the Bears last year was just that... a catch. To ANYONE who watched that game their eyes told them that was a catch. But what's this? The official states that because he was going to the ground that he has to maintain possession through the entire motion?!? Since when? Call that what it was; a bad call by an official who is a human being. Instead you choose to restructure the way the game is played to protect a single bad call and now we are left with a rule so subjective that nobody knows for sure what a catch is or even what a touchdown is. Not the players, not the coaches and not even the officials calling the game. If those people don't know how to call it when they're getting paid copious amounts of money to know then how can you expect someone like me, the die hard fan to know? What about the casual fan? What about that person who isn't even a fan yet that's catching a Super Bowl for the first time who's already having a hard time grasping the rules. If they leave the game completely lost on how it's played do you think they will want to learn more or will they be pushed away before they ever even get a chance? Seems pretty cocky to think that you're so big and powerful that you can afford to alienate all but the hard core fan and still thrive and grow enough to expand overseas (we won't even get into how offensive this is to the average fan who considers Football an American stalwart).
You're introducing far too many laws to protect the players from themselves and it's resulting in the complete change of the game to the point where past players and even those who are being protected currently are standing up against it. For decades you have fed and grown your business on the violence of the sport. You've got people to tune in with the promise of seeing vicious hits and gridiron warriors. Now you claim that it's unsafe for these sorts of hits to occur and that people could suffer closed head injuries as a result of sustaining big hits. We don't yet know and the science isn't there so it's pretty tough for the average fan to believe this is the sole reason. I happen to feel it's the money. After all, how many fans are killed (not just injured with some undefined medical conditions... killed) each year as a direct result of the beer served at your stadiums and advertised all over your games? I couldn't tell you what the official soft drink or vegetable is of the NFL but I know without giving it much thought that Bud Light is the official beer of the NFL. So if you truly were introducing all of these quarterback rules and rules about hitting big name wide receivers as they go over the middle in the name of safety then why do you continue to suckle at the teet of alcohol when so many people are killed each year as a direct result? Wouldn't have anything to do with the money, would it? Don't continue to patronize us as fans into thinking you are worried about the safety of the player when all you're concerned about is potential lawsuits and losing the face of the commercial for the upcoming marketing campaign for the next prime time game. You may think we're all just beer swilling idiots but some of us are actually capable of cognitive thoughts.
This brings us to the desire to extend the season to 18 games or possibly even more. You try to say you're giving the fan more games to watch which, taken at it's surface, seems like you're doing us a favor. Way to frame that in a positive light the way you framed the strike... err... lockout... I mean.... cash grab... but the reality is it's just about the money once again. You claim to have the player's health in mind yet you want to extend a season that's already incredibly taxing on the bodies of the players. On top of that whenever you add more games it decreases the importance of each game. If you doubt this just ask MBL and the NBA about elongated regular seasons. Most people don't watch the NBA until Christmas time at the earliest with the majority waiting until the payoffs. Why would you? The best teams with the most watched players make the playoffs where the games are watchable since the players actually care about them. The more games you add to the regular season the more you water down the regular season. As it is there are several teams that don't start their star players the last game or two of the season. What if this were three or four games? Do you think fans who pay for tickets want to go root for the 2nd and 3rd string players? Sure you'll make more money on the addition of regular season games but at what expense? Doesn't sound like you're doing it for the fans to me.
Fix this sport I love by unfixing it. Stop trying to fix what isn't broken. You have introduced rules in the last 5 years that are slowly ruining the sport and taking out all that the fans love about it. When a catch isn't a catch you run the risk of ruining credibility. When a player can't hit another player to stop them from advancing the ball or scoring a touchdown you ruin the very idea of the sport. Aside from credibility you are introducing rules that are shaking the very foundation of the game itself. Greed for money and greed for control are going to take a sure thing and turn it into a losing proposition. Heed this advice from the common fan before you run the gravy train off the tracks by trying to control it too much. Start the train, get it to speed and stop it at the end of the trip. Do that and it will deliver every time and everyone will be happy. Other than that just let it be guided by the tracks. The more complicated you make it the more it loses it's appeal. The more you try to define the engineering you hurt the product. Sometimes as it travels down the tracks it breaks one way or another but it averages out and in the end it arrives at the depot. Don't let greed run the train or it will surely run off the tracks.
The Average NFL Fan
p.s. Thanks for all the good times not mentioned here!