Thursday, September 18, 2014

NFL Under Review

I write here off and on about NFL football, of which I’m an ardent fan. Even though I grew up playing and focusing a lot more on baseball and basketball -- and continued to play hoops well into my adult years -- I now find football and specifically the pro game my most favored sport to watch and follow.

Trying to pick the games each week in the ESPN Pigskin Pick’em contest adds considerably to my enjoyment, giving me a rooting interest in each game. And I’m a devoted fan of the Carolina Panthers, not quite living and dying with each game but being at least as invested as your average fan.

Like everyone else who follows NFL -- and now many who don’t, too -- I’m now also following all of the off-the-field crises that are happening with regard to the criminal behavior of several players and the very poor handling of various cases by the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as well as by the teams involved.

I was scrolling through the top NFL stories on the ESPN app yesterday and saw how the first six were about these cases involving Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Jonathan Dwyer, and Greg Hardy (of the Panthers), with a couple more after that focusing on Goodell and other related issues.

It reminded me a little of several years ago when I first started this blog to write about a game I loved to play, then a few months later the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was made law and I found myself farther and farther afield when it came to my chosen topics. The actual game quickly receded into the background amid all of the legal wrangling, and then became even further obscured by the many controversies that cropped up soon afterwards involving cheating scandals at prominent online sites (Absolute Poker and UltimateBet).

The stories of domestic violence, child abuse, drug infractions, and other offenses dominating the NFL coverage these days have risen to such a crescendo that even to try to talk about or focus on the games can be interpreted as imprudently neglecting the problems at hand. Some less committed fans are already turning away from the game, while the diehards are nearing the point of having to defend their continuing to stick with the league.

In any case, the observation I wanted to share regarding the situation was just a small one, but something I hadn’t necessarily seen others making.

I’ve complained here before about how the reliance upon replays had turned the experience of watching NFL games into something altogether different from what it had been even a decade ago. With every play potentially subject afterwards to being challenged and thus “under review,” there’s a hard-to-escape feeling of what I can only describe as distrust when watching a game live.

That is to say, the spectator is better served not to get too excited about anything, because everything has a chance of being disallowed. “The NFL has turned into a game of do-overs and didn't-counts,” I tweeted a couple of years ago when watching a game full of penalties and overturned plays. “No play ever is as it appears.” Such remains the case today.

An underlying pattern marking the NFL’s inconsistent responses to the recent series of off-the-field incidents, arrests, and legal proceedings has been kind of similar, really, with a lot of “do-overs” and “didn’t-counts” marking their attempts to rule. Players have been suspended, not suspended, and had their suspensions and/or status changed by both the NFL and the teams involved, with each change in course seemingly made in response to the level of outrage being delivered over social media regarding each case.

Just like on the field, it seems with these off-the-field issues “no play is ever as it appears.” The league’s lack of clarity and consistency regarding its efforts to legislate the conduct of its players has greatly damaged both Goodell and the previously carefully-managed image the NFL had maintained as an important, valuable contributor to society.

I remain a fan as well as someone who actually believes sports -- including big-time professional sports -- can contribute something worthwhile to our lives. But I suppose that’s under review, too.

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