Are you ready for some football, a Monday night party! – Hank Williams Jr.
Three years playing Pop Warner. Four years playing high school football. Four years of college gridiron. Several years of coaching.
Football is in the blood. Football is life. Life is seen through the football prism. Why do tennis players slam rackets and curse officials? Because they don’t know humility. Try being run over one-on-one by the opposing running back trying to defend the goal line. You’ll understand humility.
Correction. Football was life. Son graduated from high school and daughter plays soccer. Time to coach soccer. College football is still fun to watch even if Alabama always wins. As for the NFL? Well, the league has issues. Mostly, the games are improperly regulated, over commercialized, and now, unfortunately, politicized.
Get on with it already!
For this fan, the NFL’s demise started back in 2013 when the game became too long with too many interruptions. The son reminds the father that it is opening night for the NFL. Father shuffles into the living room, grabs TV clicker and turns on Thursday Night Football opening night: Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos. The father witnesses the following. Ravens have the ball 3rddown at their own sixteen.
3rdDown – Incomplete pass.
4thDown – Punt. Two Ravens penalties – one accepted. Replays of penalties. Commercial break.
1stDown Broncos – Completed pass. Challenge flag thrown. Challenge replays. Commercial break. Call reversed.
2ndDown – Penalty on Broncos.
2ndDown replayed – Incomplete pass.
Five snaps. One challenge. Two commercials. Three penalties. Three incomplete passes. Ten minutes of real time? “Screw this! This game sucks.” Turn off TV. Throw clicker on couch.
Depending on who you read, the NFL games have lengthened between four to eight minutes. More and more, though, the viewer is subject to long time lapses full of reviews and commercials. College football is going the same way especially those Saturday night prime time games. It used to be that college bowl games were marathons. The same father and son would attend a four-and-a-half-hour long Boca Raton Bowl in 2016. By contrast, France won the 2018 World Cup championship in two hours even.
Stop the hitting!
That same season, the NFL takes another hit during a San Francisco – New Orleans game in November. Since rooting for an earthquake or a flood isn’t the best sportsmanship, this viewer was happy to see a good competitive football game. With the score in San Fransicso’s favor 20-17 with less than four minutes to play, Forty-Niner linebacker Ahmad Brooks breaks around the corner and sacks Drew Brees with a forearm blow across the top of the chest jarring the ball loose which the 49ers recover. The zebras throw a flag on Brooks for unnecessary roughness.
Viewer becomes unglued, “What the …!?” It was a legal hit even if it made Mr. Brees’ head snap. The NFL fines Mr. Brooks $17,500 dollars. Mr. Ray Lewis, retired Ravens linebacker and best linebacker ever (with all apologies to Mssrs. Butkus, Singletary, and Carson), allegedly vows to pay Mr. Brooks’ fine. That week, the same viewer was so incensed he called NFL Sirius radio to make his defense case for Mr. Brooks. Had it been Cam Newton, Brooks would have missed the tackle. The defense shouldn’t be penalized because the opponent is small. Radio announcer listens, acknowledges valid points, then counters with, “in this day and age, you can’t tackle like that.”
Had Mr. Brooks opted for a form tackle where he plants his shoulder pad into Mr. Brees’ sternum, wraps his arms around the QB, picks him up and sets Mr. Brees into the ground, Mr. Brees’ career might well have been over. Mr. Brees is a great quarterback and this fan doesn’t want to see Drew Brees’ career ended. The NFL claims it was. A blow to the neck even if contact started at the chest. Whatever? How is a player realistically able to control something like that?
The NFL has a problem. Yes, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease, is a big problem and the league could do more to protect the players. The NHL and NBA and even MLB have reduced the need for unnecessary physical contact. Can’t hit a player without the puck, blatant basketball fouls carry an extra penalty, and home plate collisions are not allowed.
Unfortunately, though, one can’t play tackle football or rugby without contact. Rugby doesn’t seem to have the CTE dilemma or at least it hasn’t been acknowledged yet. To its credit, the NFL has minimized unnecessary contact away from the ball like the special team side swipe block on the snoozing defender.
The NFL’s problem is that it isn’t doing what it can and should do to protect the players. Collisions are a matter of physics. Force equals mass times acceleration. Momentum equals mass times velocity. Decrease acceleration and velocity and the force and momentum of the collision decreases.
Anyone who has played the game knows that the hip and leg pads slow the player. Yet, the NFL doesn’t enforce the full pad requirement. So, the NFL has remarkable nearly unparalleled world class athletes rocketing around the field wearing only an almost impervious helmet and shoulder pads. Make the players, including the punters and field goal kickers, wear the hip girdle and pant pads. It will not only reduce the wear and tear of the players hitting the turf and each other. It should reduce the impact of collisions.
But, the players don’t want to be hindered. It dilutes their athleticism and thus the game. For the same reason, the owners don’t want the players hindered either. If all players wore all pads, all players would be equally slowed. The current player is so fit and such a phenomenal athlete that the game will still prosper even if all are slowed a tad.
While the NFL will say it has to protect the players, and it should, it can’t account for every permutation or type of hit. It is unreasonable to ask a player to not legally hit another player in such a way as to not look so violent. Nobody really wants to see another NFL player injured or ever sustain a concussion. Yet, the reality of the game is that at is predicated upon physicality. As previously mentioned, other sports, like hockey, basketball, and lacrosse, can all be played without physical contact or with greatly reduced physical contact. Football cannot be played without contact. Period.
Also, watch how many offensive and defensive linemen are knocked woozy on one step
collisions off the ball snap. These helmet to helmet hits on the victim’s temple area are the most dangerous. For a good example of a blow to the temple, see the hit on Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce in last year’s playoff game versus Tennessee. So, why not make the players where a cushion over the helmet, ala the Buffalo Bills Don Beebe, to dissipate the energy from the collision? Because it doesn’t look cool.
Fortunately, the NFL has one trend in its favor thanks to the Seattle Seahawks. Pete Carroll and his team developed a new way to successfully tackle by teaching players to avoid helmet contact while securing the opponent around the waist for a solid Greco-Roman style take down. The Seahawk Legion of Boom was really the Legion of Smother and very good at it.
Still, the NFL should hope the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t become involved. OSHA banned Sea World trainers from being in the water with the orcas after an orca killed a trainer. If Sea World trainers can’t choose their risks, why should NFL players?
Process, process, process
The NFL continued its slide with its inexplicable rule of what exactly is catching a football. In the 2014 playoffs, Dallas Cowboys trailed Green Bay late in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys’ Dez Bryant makes a catch against Green Bay to score a TD or at least make it 1stand goal at the half yard line. After further review, though, the player didn’t complete the process of catching the football without the assistance of the ground. What?!?!? Even this die-hard Giants fan and Cowboy hater has to admit, Dez Bryant caught the damn football. Dez was robbed. This is but one of many questionable catch calls
How about the discourse over last year’s Steelers-Patriots game and Jesse James’ non-catch? He had possession – two hands on the ball and two feet on the ground. The ball breaks the plane and his elbow hit the ground when the ball comes out. After further review, what freaking game are they playing anymore?
Time to take a knee
As the games dragged on with more challenges, reviews, commercials and breaks, the 2016 season was set to add more drama that had nothing to do with the game. Mr. Colin Kaepernick was making a pre-season pre-game political statement about police brutality toward people of color by sitting during the national anthem. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Then, a Veteran and former player, Nate Boyer, recommended Mr. Kaepernick take a knee instead of sitting as not to be disrespectful. The rest is modern history, but here are the highlights.
On opening Sunday, September 11, 2016, the fifteen-year anniversary of 9-11, twelve NFL players take a knee. The 9-11 motto of “Never Forget” seems to take a back seat.
- As the season continues, more players take a knee. Mr. Kapernick wears anti police socks. Some teams stand and interlock arms.
- The media makes a point to follow and encourage it. Bob Costasstates, “Patriotism comes in many forms and what has happened is it’s been conflated with a bumper-style kind of flag-waving and with the military only so that people cannot see that in his own way Colin Kaepernick, however imperfectly, is doing a patriotic thing.”
- Many fans start to protest the protest. NFL attendance and viewing start to wane. The Wall Street Journal attributes this due to interest in the 2016 Presidential Election.
- Player kneeling and fan protests continue into the 2017-18 season. Attendance and viewing continue to wane.
- In September 2017, President Trump says at a rally, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!” Many in the league, including owners, galvanizes against him in league wide demonstrations. Go figure.
- That same weekend, Alejandro Villanueva, a Pittsburgh Steeler offensive linemen and Army combat veteran, leaves his teammates in the locker room to attend the national anthem. A couple of days later he apologizes for not supporting his team and coaches. Mr. Villanueva handled it exceptionally well.
- In October, Vice President Pence walks out of a Colts game after players take a knee during the anthem.
- Early November 2017, the Wall Street Journal publishes an article attributing NFL dip in televised viewing to over saturation. Oversaturation? What better way to start the work day then the Morning Kickoff with Ross Tucker? Or Shannon Sharpe ripping into a fellow players lackluster effort? Fan reminds himself the Wall Street Journal is a great business newspaper, but nobody ever bought the Journal for its sport section or its football IQ.
- During this offseason, the NFL instituted a mandatory standing rule for those on the field for the national anthem only to have to redact it because it wasn’t part of the collective bargaining agreement.
This Veteran isn’t offended by the kneeling. Regardless of one’s definition of patriotism and through all of the screaming and name calling, the issue can be distilled to three facts. If an NFL owner wants to allow the players to make political statements at work, that is his prerogative. If a player wants to enjoin in a permitted political statement, that is his prerogative. And if a fan wants to protest the political statement, that too is the fan’s prerogative. All rights go equally in all directions.
This citizen recognizes the police aren’t perfect, nor are the military, nor are football players and so on. There is no conspiracy amongst the police of Minneapolis, Baton Rouge, Dallas or Ferguson. They are each governed by different leaders and state laws. For every video of an accused law enforcement abuse, the rest of the story is frequently condemning of the alleged victim’s behavior leading to the incident.
When one policeman draws a sidearm and the other draws a TASER, it shows law enforcement may have a training gap in rules of engagement and escalation of force. Police need time to train better. Citizens should cooperate with law enforcement. So many of these incidents are avoidable. Blame goes in many directions. Yet, it isn’t the only challenge facing society. What if the player took a knee because of poverty and living conditions in Appalachia or Lower Alabama?
Incidents like this, though, bring out comparisons to other protests while simultaneously causing political amnesia. Golden State Warriors coach, Steve Kerr, criticized the NFL’s new mandatory stand policy only to not realize the NBA has a mandatory stand policy for the anthem. Furthermore, a fellow player from Mr. Kerr’s era, Mahmoud Abdul Rauf, protested the anthem nearly twenty years earlier.
Perhaps the NFL can take a lesson from a previous incident involving All-Pro, all world, defensive end, and Minister of Defense Reggie White. Reverend White, with the Packers at the time, made a stir in 1998 when he said homosexuality was a sin. Controversial
indeed. The Commissioner didn’t say he was proud of Mr. White’s statement. The Packer organization didn’t stand by Mr. White. Coach Mike Holmgren respectfully told White he had a chance to speak and everyone knew his position. It was time to set that aside and play football. Mr. White could moralize and minister on his own time, not Packer time.
This is the rub. Political causes are subjective. Why is one cause good and the other isn’t? Does a stand against police brutality cause violence towards the many professional law enforcement officials? Should a fan back his family and friends on the police force or NFL players?
Frankly, this consumer recommends the NFL realize that if you bring your politics to your product, you better be prepared for dissent. Doesn’t matter if your product involves flipping burgers, pumping gas, mixing paint, or slinging the pigskin. Most importantly, you better have a damn good product. The NFL doesn’t have a good product. The NFL has lost its luster to commercials, reviews and political drama.
The NHL has a great product. The games are exciting and full of speed and athleticism. Rugby, especially sevens, has contact and is fast moving with few lapses in action. Even soccer has more appeal with great athletes and no commercial breaks during the game. They just need to stop the diva dives.
NFL preseason starts this week. Premier League regular season starts in two weeks. The MLB pennant races, the PGA FedEx Cup and Ryder Cup will be in full swing for September. October brings the baseball playoffs plus the NHL and NBA season openers. Of course, college football runs the whole time. Let’s hope the NCAA gets a handle on the game length. Lastly, Shark Tank is available on demand 24/07.
To use a Shark-like analysis, the NFL game is no fun anymore. The games are too long, the rules are incomprehensible, and the political drama is a distraction. For those reasons, I’m out.
By the way, one can only hope Ray Lewis really paid the fine for Ahmad Brooks.