So, this is going to be a bit of a rant and a little less of a well researched article. There is no questioning that the NFL is far, far superior to any other professional league in how they have marketed themselves and promoted their game. Yet, I can't help but notice trends that may be a detriment to that prestige. When I think about something like a lockout and how it can damage a game my thoughts always come back to "The NFL can survive it, and still thrive after it." That's absolutely true. While they are doing damage to their image, it's still professional football and we are still Americans who eat up, literally, every minute of it; even men working out in tights (the combine). Yet, compounded with enough factors can what happened to baseball happen to football? The culture is going to change as it did since the height of baseball (America's Pasttime). The culture sped up and demanded a sport that was more violent and faster moving. I'm not here to debate the entertainment of baseball, to each his own, but once baseball was also untouchable. So here are multiple things the NFL is doing wrong or isn't doing well.
Player Safety - Without getting into the rise of concussions, or the rise in diagnosis (which is probably more accurate) let's just agree that the amount of games players are missing with concussions is rising out of control. I am all about protecting the assets of the NFL. As much as I love the violence of the game, I hate seeing players essentially lose a functional life after football. NASCAR adopted the HANS device to restrict head movement after their star Dale Earnhardt tragically died on the track. They haven't taken away from the sport in the very least and have greatly improved driver safety. The NFL is definitely addressing player safety, but in the wrong way. They are destroying how defenses play. Yet only slight improvements have been made to the helmet. I'm not a scientist so I won't pretend I know what I'm talking about, but surely there is a way to fix it, and someone is going to make a lot of money when they do. NASCAR has made it a higher octane sport and have seen a huge increase in violent wrecks...and drivers walk away unharmed. Yet, every hit in the NFL does damage. Which leads me to my second point...
Retired Player Care - At first I thought it was ludicrous that the NFL would take care of it's players long after they retired. I mean what company does that outside of some retirement benefits and COBRA. Yet, it's sad watching players get old and turn into what retired boxers look like. While it's rare, this brain injury that is causing severe depression and uncontrollable fits of rage is also frightening. I hate thinking that I take such pleasure in watching guys destroy their lives. Even if there brain isn't injured, their back is in shambles, their knees hurt when it rains and they can't lift their kids up because their shoulders are torn apart. The NFL must include some retirement benefits that go above and beyond what they do today. Most NFL players aren't rich for long. The large majority of players sacrifice for a nice salary but don't have the financial wisdom to prolong it. Because football has created a nightmare of publicity with player safety it is effecting ...
Youth Football - I'm not going to assert that involvement in youth football is declining. Though, I'm tempted to make that assumption, I can't back it up with any numbers. However, I can't foresee youth numbers rising as head injuries rise. A national sports writer (who, with little research, I can't figure out) called it mild child abuse to allow your kids to play football. It's slightly controversial, but I kind of agree. I'm not a parent, though one day I do want a kid. As I type this, I still would hope my child wants to play football (though I will never force him). But, is that great parenting? It's debatable. I'm not sure I would be able to stomach it if my boy was seriously injured because of a violent game that I allowed him to play. I would much rather my hypothetical son be a professional golfer, tennis player or beach volleyball player. I also hypothesize that many parents have similar sentiments.
Hispanic Involvement - Hispanics are the largest minority in the States yet are an extreme minority in the NFL. The root of this is no doubt the lack of American football in Latino countries. The Shield pays lip service to wanting more hispanic children and parades Tony Gonzalez to Latino football camps, but it's going to take more than that. It's going to take full-fledged, grass-root movements into Hispanic communities. There is some phenomenal Latino athletes that are playing soccer, basketball and even golf. Largely, because of the global attraction of these sports. Again, I may not have a ton of answers, but I have the problem. Is globalization the answer to this problem?
Globalization - Each year the NFL is sending a game to Europe to increase British attraction to the sport. The problem is they are just sticking their toes in the water. Sander can probably attest to this much more than I can, but all it's doing is creating a sideshow. It's not really making the game more accessible in foreign countries. The NFL is wasting millions in trying to accomplish this though. I guess my problem with it, and how it can damage the NFL, is they aren't committing to it. I feel like it's the game of Risk; I have a strong hold of Africa yet I send 1/4 of my troops into Europe to be attacked by 4 different countries. I have no idea how that makes sense, other than the NFL is spreading their resources thin when they do things like that. Either commit to it, or stop pretending that globalization is a priority
Greed - The owners have locked out the players. The NFLPA is being petty and telling prospects not to go to the draft. It's all about greed. I'm sick of talking it at this point, so I won't.