It doesn’t take a public relations wizard to see that the National Football League is losing it’s image. It once was the gold standard in professional sports, dominating the airwaves and news cycles with it’s spectacular performance on the ice. But now it’s dominating the news cycle with drama and lackluster on field performance. And the NFL has no one to blame but themselves.
The argument could be made that the NFL began losing its image with the concussion lawsuit, which is a fair point. It’s hard to withstand an attack by former players that is backed up by scientific data. Yet the NFL managed to come out relatively unscathed by coming up with new policies and backing the creation of better equipment geared towards helping players like the VICIS Zero1 helmet, which is essentially supposed to act like a car bumper and crumple upon impact and there new sensors that can be placed under the turf that will measure the impact of hits to better protect players. So their image took a minor hit that could’ve been MUCH worse if not for their new player protection policies.
But what I think is the ultimate culprit of the NFL’s image problem is the NFL themselves. First you had the blunder that was the Ray Rice incident where the league wasn’t hard enough on Rice and then was too hard because they screwed up the first time. It was the beginning of the NFL trying to act like the cops and not making a big enough deal out of a huge incident because Rice had talent.
Then we have the Deflategate issue that went on far longer than it ever should have purely because it involved Tom Brady, one of the stars of the game. It ultimately hurt the image because it made the NFL look like a bully picking on one of it’s players for breaking an insane rule, because really who cares about how much the footballs are inflated or deflated? And really the quarterbacks should get to decide that because they are the ones that need to throw it and make plays. This also hurt the image because of the length, it should’ve been a simple ‘investigation’ the would be swept under the rug due to it’s insignificance.
And in another incident you have Jerry Jones v. Roger Goodell because Goodell was actually trying to help a young player before their behavior got out of control, which is noble because Ezekiel Elliott has serious talent and should have his head on straight so that nothing will detract from what should be an impressive career. And this fight got ugly, Jones was throwing out every card he had to get rid of Goodell without realizing that his actions were hurting the league that gives him mountains of money. Jones’ moves throughout Goodell’s contract extension the last couple of months shows the cracks in the foundation of the NFL. It made the media start sniffing around areas that they really shouldn’t be focused on during the season, but Jones was determined to clear his player, when really he should’ve had Elliott just quietly take his suspension and move on.
Finally there are two huge reasons why the NFL’s image has taken a huge hit that will take a lot of time to come back from. The first is the whole kneeling for the National Anthem issue that has become a far bigger story due to the President of the United States bringing his unwarranted and uneducated opinion into the matter. But I won’t go on a tirade about this issue any more than to say that the NFL should’ve picked a side and stayed on that side instead of agreeing with the players when it mattered and then turning against them afterwards. Plus if you notice nobody is really talking about the Anthem protests anymore.
And there is the new bombshell that hit the NFL earlier this week in Jami Cantor, a former NFL Network stylist made some pretty serious allegations of misconduct against several big name both current and former NFL employees thus bringing the NFL into the #metoo movement that has swept industries from entertainment to hospitality and politics. I will admit that I wasn’t surprised when the allegations broke because the league and it’s network are old boys clubs. There are very few females in executive positions in the NFL and very few even at the team level, because football is largely seen as a male driven business. Plus for the men accused they have power because of their positions in the league and wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to believe that these things happened. So it was only a matter of time before the NFL was brought into the #metoo conversation and this is one fight that the NFL might have a hard time coming back from. This can’t be fixed by a great game on Sunday or a great Super Bowl game in February because this is about what happens within a league entity. These allegations bring about the discuss as to what the culture is like within the NFL Network and by extension the NFL itself because why wasn’t this settled earlier? Why did the NFL think that they could sweep this under the rug instead of attacking it like they did Tom Brady and his deflated balls? Time will hopefully give us the answers to these questions, but by then I’m not sure the NFL’s image could come back.
I’m not saying that the end of the NFL is near, because let’s be honest that’s far from happening. But I am saying that the NFL is no longer the gold standard in professional sports and could stand to learn a few things to bring it back to relatively closer to where it was once.