This Sunday the NFL caps off its season with the Super Bowl, the most-watched TV event of the year. This season, though, might be one the NFL wishes it could redo. In terms of the game, it was a fantastic year for the league, with great storylines such as the 49ers collapse, the Cowboy’s resurgence, and J.J. Watt eating quarterbacks alive (in a metaphorical sense). These stories were all overshadowed, however, by events taking place off the field. Stories like the Ray Rice domestic abuse case and the leagues bumbling of it, the continuing debate over what effects football has on a player’s health, and now deflategate/ballgazi (a conspiracy that the New England Patriots let air out of game balls). The NFL’s incompetence and hypocrisy have become more apparent with each new issue that arises. Yet, this Sunday, over 100 million people will tune into the NFL’s signature product and the league will continue to be successful and profitable.
The face of the NFL is Commissioner Roger Goodell, a man who has been as responsible as anyone for the problems facing the league. It has been under his watch that the NFL has become an organization that suspends employees for smoking weed and cares little if they frequently use dangerous painkillers on game day. It’s an organization that elevates its employees to gods and then casts them aside when their effectiveness expires. Under Goodell, the NFL has been extremely involved in some aspects, such as regulating player behavior and trying to make the game safer. Yet in things like improving concussion protocol, regulating PED’s, and helping players after they are out of football, the league has been remarkably uninvolved.
The obvious difference between the aspects the league seemingly cares about and the aspects it doesn’t is the difficulty of addressing the different problems. It’s easy for the NFL to fine players for smoking some weed or making an illegal hit, but it’s hard to tell players they’re out for the game when they “get their bell rung” or to make sure that players don’t go broke when their bodies are broken and they have no new way to provide for themselves. This doesn’t excuse the NFL by any measure though. They have recently made some attempts to address these issues by installing a new concussion protocol and giving benefits to retired players with concussions. Even that is giving them too much credit. For the NFL to do even that they had to be sued by thousands of former players and only capitulated when public backlash forced them to. Indeed doing something only when forced to by public opinion has become something of a habit for the NFL.
The Ray Rice case is a perfect example of the NFL’s lack of good judgment and sensitivity to public opinion. When, after giving Rice a short two-game suspension for knocking out his wife, a video was released that showed exactly what happened and generated a swarm of backlash. The NFL than frantically backtracked and banned Rice for the entire season, violating their own bargaining agreement with the players union in the process. The whole affair demonstrated just how much the NFL needs popular support and how little it deserves.
Despite all this, the NFL is going to continue to grow in the near future because the league has a trump card in its hand: the game itself. It’s the same reason people buy iPhones despite Apple’s bad business practices – the product is very good. The NFL is not a good organization, it treats players like spare parts and fans as walking money signs. This Sunday, I like most of the country, am going to sit down and watch the Super Bowl, and the NFL will continue to prosper.