These days the biggest league in the sports world is feeling a bit less fun. Football should be fun and entertaining for everyone, players and fans alike, but with a little yellow flag flying onto the field every time someone shows some excitement, or seemingly even breathes the wrong way, the game is losing its spirit.
Under commissioner Roger Goodell strict rules regarding players celebrating after touchdowns have been implemented. Some of the game’s biggest stars have been penalized for “excessive” or “inappropriate” celebrations, like Antonio Brown twerking in the end zone, Odell Beckham Jr. pretending to photograph teammate Victor Cruz as he did the salsa, Jimmy Graham dunking on the field goal post, and many more. All of these seem pretty harmless and lighthearted in nature, but for some reason the league has taken strict action, fining the players thousands of dollars.
Also, the guidelines of these rules have changed a lot over the years and are becoming increasingly vague. In 1984 the rules were simple; “Any prolonged, excessive, or premeditated celebration by individual players or groups of players will be constructed as unsportsmanlike conduct”. The rule was enforced more loosely to allow the players to have fun, and was implemented more or less to ensure nothing happened that would soil the good nature of the sport and create hostility between the teams. Today the rules have changed to say that “anything taking place on the playing field that goes beyond natural, spontaneous expressions of exuberance…actions that are sexually suggestive or can otherwise be constructed in poor taste…actions that are unsportsmanlike to officials” will be deemed as illegal.
You may be asking yourself “What does that even mean?” Well, therein lies the source of all the controversy regarding these rules: no one knows exactly what they mean. The guidelines of these rules are left so open-ended by the NFL that everyone interprets them differently, causing there to be no consistency in officiating or understanding by players and fans of what is acceptable for them to do. While one player, like Antonio Brown for instance, may believe they’re just doing a dance for the fun of it, an official could interpret it as “sexually suggestive” and “in poor taste for the game of football”. And from a fan’s point of view, most thought little of Brown’s twerking. If anything fans thought it was funny and entertaining, not sexually suggestive. And on top of that, it just slows the game down in a bad way. No fan wants to watch the officials have meet up midfield to clarify a call over and over again. We just want to see the fast-paced, hard hitting, exciting action that we’ve come to expect. The NFL just seems to be taking itself a little too seriously.
The problem isn’t going to get any better as long as Roger Goodell is commissioner. He has a tendency to be a very self centered leader, and has purposely punished players that have spoken out against him and his policies simply out of spite. Players like Richard Sherman and Antonio Brown who have expressed their opinions about the rules taking the fun out of the game have been targeted for more fines for their actions in games, and the rules seem to be even more strict for them. Corruption like this is common under Goodell’s NFL. His handling of scandals within the league have been very questionable.
Goodell’s record when it comes to domestic violence cases has been peculiar. Some of the odd choices he has made have been illustrated by the confusing process of the Ray Rice case and the Josh Brown domestic abuse case. The Giants’ kicker Brown was found guilty of repeatedly beating his wife and was only given a one game suspension. The decision on that case seems even more ridiculous when it is compared to a case like Tom Brady’s “deflate-gate” scandal. Brady appealed his initial punishment for deflating footballs in the Colts vs. Patriots playoff game in 2015, and spoke repeatedly on his disagreement with Goodell’s leadership. In return, after Brady’s appeal was denied, his punishment was reconfigured to be even longer at 4 games. How can it be justified that someone guilty of beating his spouse gets a less severe punishment than someone who simply deflated a few footballs? The league’s process of handling misconduct needs to change to be more fair, not based on who rubs this egomaniac the wrong way. It is not only a bad look for the league, but it is taking the voice and passion away from its players.
For the sake of the game we all know and love, something in the NFL’s structure needs to change. Professional sports should be held at the highest standard on how they carry themselves and handle controversy. They are expected to set an example to their fan base on what the right way to control the inevitable scandal is, and right now they are setting a very strong example, just not a good one. The NFL’s rules and policies need be made clear, and they need to start treating the players with the level of respect they are entitled to. Happy players would make the games more fun, and fun leads to happy fans. That’s what it’s all about.