What’s the matter with the NFL?

On January 18, 1987 the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell wrote a classic column called “Why Baseball Is So Much Better Than Football,” and proceeded to list 99 reasons this was true.  It is one of my absolute favorite pieces of sports writing.  Here are a few of Boswell’s gems:

20. Eighty degrees, a cold beer and a short-sleeve shirt is better than 30 degrees, a hip flask and six layers of clothes under a lap blanket. Take your pick: suntan or frostbite.

25. More good baseball books appear in a single year than have been written about football in the past 50 years. The best football writers, like Dan Jenkins, have the good sense to write about something else most of the time.

46. Parity scheduling. How can the NFL defend the fairness of deliberately giving easier schedules to weaker teams and harder schedules to better teams? Just to generate artificially improved competition? When a weak team with a patsy schedule goes 10-6, while a strong defending division champ misses the playoffs at 9-7, nobody says boo. Baseball would have open revolt at such a nauseatingly cynical system.

53. Football fans tailgate before the big game. No baseball fan would have a picnic in a parking lot.

The entire list can be found at BaseballAlmanac.com I share this not just to showcase Boswell’s considerable talent and insight.  Rather to share my view that the NFL is run by a collection of malefactors of great wealth in their own self-interest. This has been a horrible moral and ethical year for the National Football League, mostly because Roger Goodell and the other stooges who run the league can’t see fit to be forthcoming about problems facing the league.

Before I leap into beating up football, let me just be clear.  I am a fan blogger and I write mostly because I have a passion for baseball, especially my hometown team the Mariners.  But I also realize I am a hopeless homer, and it’s hard not to be utterly infatuated with the World Champion Seahawks, a Husky football team that seems to be on the rise, as well as the Tacoma Rainiers. My beef with football has nothing to do with the Seahawks, but just the general decision making around ethical issues that seem to be routine around the NFL, and they just as routinely seem to transform into the huge icebergs they can ram their Titanic-sized business into.

1. I almost gave up watching Seahawks games this year.  Heck, when they were 3-3 lots of other people probably felt the same.  But that’s not why. I have an excruciatingly difficult time financially supporting a game that is essentially killing its players. The NFL has done all it can to cover up the effects of repeated brain trauma (CTE) on its players, despite clear and increasing evidence this is a routine byproduct of the sport. One need only examine the cases of deceased players Mike Webster, Junior Seau, and Dave Duerson to know that something is desperately wrong here.  I understand that to address this issue may require major changes to the sport, but these same injuries are also appearing in college, high school and younger players. Don’t get me wrong, these problems didn’t start on Roger Goodell’s watch, but it’s the way he’s handling it today that is the problem. It can’t continue the way it is, and the NFL can’t continue to hide behind a screen of lawyers and quackery.

2. The NFL also chose to muff the handling of this year’s problem du jour, domestic violence. The public disclosure of the Ray Rice video gave the NFL an opportunity to take a decisive stand against domestic violence by levying an appropriate and complex penalty on the offending player.  Instead it offered a two week wrist slap.  When additional details and footage became available it overreached by suspending Rice indefinitely without even considering Rice’s due process rights, and suffered a subsequent overturning of the penalty in court. In addition to looking like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, it became clear the NFL had access to the complete Rice video before the press did and acted as the NFL always seems to do–it suppressed the evidence.  Who are these people?

3. Another gigantic complaint is the NFL wants to be in players’ off-field business in all kinds of trivial and unimportant ways and remain completely lost in the important ones. Example number one, is your favorite Seahawk and mine, Marshawn Lynch. By all accounts Lynch is a great teammate, his performance on the field speaks for itself, his value to his team is incalculable (er, at least seven million dollars as his contract currently stands.) Yet the NFL hectors and harasses Lynch mercilessly about his relations with the press and their access to them. They threatened him with fines during last year’s Super Bowl Week.  They fined him $100,000 for his lack of answers to the press after Week 15. This, of course, prompted Lynch during the following week to give two simple sentences to reporters questions beginning with “Thanks for asking. . “. and ending with something meaningless.  A hundred grand followed by what everybody knows to be a game to avoid future fines. Who gives a hoot in hell about what Marshawn Lynch says to the press?   But when Detroit Lions defensive star Ndamukong Suh stomps on the leg of a prone Aaron Rodgers, he was first suspended. On appeal, Suh’s suspension was lifted and replaced with a $70,000 fine. Really.  So which is more worthy of NFL intervention-that Lynch won’t talk to the press or that Suh stomps one of the best quarterbacks in the game when he is defenseless? $100,000 for silence vs. $70,000 for malicious intent . . . I know how my scale of justice tilts.

4.  Where the hell did Dan Snyder come from? What planet?  What parallel universe? Maybe the Bizarro planet? First, Snyder’s a terrible owner and the Redskins have become a football stinkhole. Coaches have come and mostly gone. The RGIII draft pick is the recurring nightmare week in and week out. But Snyder’s tin ear regarding the team nickname is simply inexcusable.  It’s clear most District inhabitants, and the rest of the country believes it is time to change its name, If Native Americans find the name insulting–take them at their word, it’s insulting. There must be a respect-inducing name the Washington football team could boast.  It might help their steadily shrinking legion of fans forget it’s the same godawful team.  And why hasn’t the NFL, the same body fining Marshawn Lynch for refusing to entertain the press corps, inflicted its will on Mr. Snyder? Follow the money.

There’s just something wrong with the NFL.  Yes, I know MLB isn’t perfect, but the NFL seems to have become a money machine, sucking in giant gobs of cash for its owners while Goodell and his buffonish minions do a terrible job of trying to protect the image of what increasingly is becoming a gladiatorial sport. They don’t seem to have the best interests of their players or fans at fault, only the interest of protecting their billions of dollars in assets and cash flow. I know the fans love it, but if they only thought about it. . . another thing better about baseball than football.

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