With the fans sharpening their pitchforks and the league backstepping off a cliff, you have to wonder how we got here...
"Do you feel like we're reaching a point we really just don't care anymore?"
"How much more of this until we just don't take this product seriously anymore?"
"I honestly wonder if I shouldn't start covering another sport."
This was a discussion I had today with a writer friend of mine, and they are honestly fair questions to be asked. At what point and time do fans and especially media turn away from the NFL as a whole? From the unjust and inconsistent punishments to the penalizing a play for being too vicious and then utilizing that highlight in a commercial to push more people to watch. The better question is can the fans turn their backs on the NFL?
The league has reached it's breaking point of sorts with this latest fiasco, unfortunately started by former Ravens running back Ray Rice. Fans are in an uproar and have been for some time now in regards to all of this. From the outrage of the two game suspension for Rice with marijuana offenders getting a year suspension, to the newest outrage of the NFL possibly having access to the Rice tape and ignoring it to push it's own agenda. Now teams are under fire for how they handle situations, starting with the Ravens' PR all the way to the Vikings wavering on their dismissal of Adrian Peterson's alleged child abuse. However, when you look at it, numbers are never better.
The NFL is a business and everyone will get in line to tell you that. Contract negotiations, salaries, rulings and gross profits all clearly show this fact. A business that gets money on the backs of sponsorships and views. Fans aren't tuning out of the games or the news or the opinion articles.. in fact, they pile on in record numbers. For every one "Ugh, not another Ray Rice article" comment, I see ten or more comments that reiterate the same few opinions and create revenue for everyone involved. For all the outrage by fans towards the Ravens for their handling of the issue, the M&T Bank Stadium has been packed to the brim with fans salivating with their expectation of hard hits and big plays. This is partly the issue if you look deep enough at it.
The NFL will show a crushing hit on a quarterback not because they want to show people that they care about concussions and shame the hitter, but because they know that is what fans want to see and we gobble it up. We cringe at a helmet to a knee but will quickly hit the rewind button to see it again. We hoot and holler at the television when a guy gets hit so hard he walks to the sideline like the town drunk. Yet, we bash the NFL for it's inconsistent stance on concussions and safety.
Fans, media and even people outside of the sports realm got on Roger Goodell for how he handled Bountygate. "He punished people too hard with not enough evidence" people screamed. Then people got on Goodell for how he handles Ricegate. "Two games for what he did!?". We blame the league for punishment no matter how it goes and it's clear that Goodell tried to alter his thinking from one scandal to another, but to no avail as he got strung up either way. Fans have come to call the NFL the "No Fun League", yet are disgusted with how the NFL treats concussion victims. They cry and complain about how much players make, but cry and complain about the league not taking care of it's own when a player shows up broke years later. Fans picket when a guy is convicted of murdering dogs, then put his jersey on every Sunday because he plays for their team now and helps them win.
That right there is the sum of it all... Fans only care and are only outraged when it fits their agenda. Because of that, the league ends up being a puppy looking for it's ball. "Is Ray Rice a good guy that did a bad thing? Okay, two game suspension"... "Wait, he's a bad guy now? Okay, suspended indefinitely". The NFL just tells you what you are already asking for, so stop yelling at it for being bad when you gave it a treat for pissing on the floor.
But maybe that is just the NFL and Goodell. I mean it has to be just a bad commissioner that let the power get to his head. Let's look at the other sports to see if the NFL stands alone.
Baseball has PEDs as it's main problem and one that has stuck around for years because it makes a more interesting product on the television. Boxing has PEDs, corruption and out of the ring issues as it's largest problems, yet Mayweather just earned a whopping guaranteed $32 million for his fight with people watching what was going to be a one-sided fight with a clear winner from the start. The UFC is getting the same problems as boxing, with it's over-the-top CEO and consistent headlines for PED usage or fighters battering people, yet they are worth a reported $3.5 billion. Now which sport would you want to cover as a writer to get away from all of this? Unfortunately, we've entered human nature territory and you'll see it in every sport.
It's sad, but seriously flawed people are the ones that get into sports professionally. People with aggression issues and a drive to be the best at all cost. When that happens, stupid stuff will flow out from it regardless of how well it's contained. Because the amount of money behind those morons, the leagues that promote them HAVE to continue to promote them in order to survive, due to our obsession with it. The only time you see a league jump from that mantra is when people come together and create an uproar and then you only see a minimal amount done until things have blown over and everything goes back the same.
It's a terrible cycle and it burns out people that cover those leagues and the fans that are invested in a team going through it's struggles. It chews up and spits out people that can't close their eyes, cover their ears because they have to cover it; they have to write 15 stories about Ray Rice's latest pimple. In the end we don't care about the players any more than the owners or the league does, we just want to see our team win and our enemy lose. It's depressing, but we can't blame the league for how it handles things when they handle it exactly the way we ask them to.