I just read that Super Bowl tickets are going for record sums. Everyone is talking about it and plans to watch it. Some of us are even buying new TVs for the occasion. I know where I’ll be at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday.
The enduring popularity of professional football is not a surprise. The recent playoff games were “classics,” and it is difficult to find someone who doesn’t know who Tom Brady is. And this season, despite Omicron, most stadiums were filled with maskless, screaming fans, some of whom may be among the 900,000 Americans no longer with us due to the pandemic.
Most of us like football but all is not well in the NFL. The owners, the players, and the game itself “have issues.” I call them storm clouds. Let me share a few.
Concussions and other life-shortening injuries are routine in football. Improvements in helmets and other equipment haven’t solved the problem. The “concussion protocols” are a step in the right direction, but I shiver when I see players carried off the field on stretchers. Players leaving games with concussions are still routine.
The sexual harassment scandals involving Washington’s football team (now nicknamed the Commies) and other teams have not been resolved. The image of a “boys club” where owners, their friends, and other big rollers engage in sleazy behavior such as circulating topless photos of cheerleaders and lacing emails with sexually offensive language is a problem. I don’t want my money going to these types of people, do you?
Racism. I was as shocked as anyone when Brian Flores sued the Dolphins and two other teams for race discrimination. Shouldn’t professional teams be able to hire whomever they want as head coaches? But then I saw the stats—70 percent of players are Black, and there are just two Black head coaches, including the just-hired Texans coach Lovie Smith. I must ask—why aren’t there more Black coaches? I still remember the years when Black quarterbacks were rare exceptions. Is today’s situation a continuation of that past racism? What good is it to wear anti-racist slogans on the back of your football helmets if the team you are playing for practices racism?
Greed and out of control compensation is turning football into a higher-priced WWF (and I don’t mean the World Wildlife Federation, but what is now called the WWE as in professional wrestling). Brian Flores said the Dolphins’ owner offered him $100,000 to lose a game on purpose so that the Dolphins could get a better draft pick. And what about player contracts in the hundreds of millions of dollars—more than it used to cost to buy a team? To pay for these massive contracts while still enriching the owners, we now have 17 regular season games in a season that starts in August and ends in mid-February. I confess to being disgusted. Greed, my friends, is not good, especially in football.
Criminal players. Many of us remember the Ray Rice story. Rice was a Ravens player caught striking his wife/girlfriend on an elevator video. Stories like Rice’s are not uncommon today. We routinely read about players caught with handguns, involved in drug deals, or engaged in sexual assault. Recently, a former Washington star running back was convicted of fraud against the government. Just last week a star player on the New Orleans Saints was arrested for a brutal beating committed after the Pro Bowl. I am weary of these stories involving pro (or college) football players. They are the exception to the rule, but one is too many.
“Over-produced” games. I don’t like the fireworks before games, set off even by teams with dismal records. I don’t like electronic prompts directing fans on when to cheer for the defense. All this nonsense is not the fault of the owners and the leagues. I also don’t like jerks showing up dressed as gorillas or wearing fake blocks of cheese on their heads, blocking the view of others who came to see the game. Seeing all this garbage makes me nostalgic for high school games where the main event was football.
Finally, let me mention gambling. I am not happy to see ads for sports betting played during games (or anytime else). It is inevitable that gambling will lead to games being thrown or other corruption.
I’m not sure what can or should be done to “reform” football. The sexism and racism must be addressed immediately, and I have no doubt that an attempt will be made to do so. But can you take the violence out of football and still have a sport that people want to pay more than $7,000 for a ticket (Super Bowl) to see? I doubt it. Is it possible to turn back the clock and work the greed out of the game? I doubt that too.
There are a lot of problems in America today. Professional football is not at the top of anyone’s list. I’m not lobbying Congress to enact laws to “fix” the league. What I am saying is that it’s sad that something so popular has so many issues associated with it—issues that I believe are driving some fans away from the sport.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and other subjects.