The NFL has successfully put 12 months between it and the league’s worst year in history. As you no doubt remember – or have paid for therapy to specifically not remember – the 2014 season was as bad as it had ever been for the NFL.
The on and off-the-field disaster inspired columns such as this one, written in the final days of last December, titled “2014 in the NFL: a year when everything went wrong everywhere.” (Hey! I know the writer of that piece!)
But with 2015 coming to a close, there hasn’t been nearly the same amount of negative coverage of the NFL as there was a year ago. Is it because the media has matured over the past year and is now better able to evaluate events and eras in a proper context? All caps with extra exclamation points: NO, IT IS NOT!!! Yet there truly doesn’t seem to be the same level of venom directed at the league as there was 12 months ago.
Ray Rice’s career is over, Adrian Peterson is focusing on football instead of child discipline, and Roger Goodell has kept a low profile since the season opened, perhaps finally aware that people like the NFL a lot better when they’re not constantly reminded that a guy they hate runs the whole thing. All positive developments for the NFL’s image. Even player crime has dropped, with arrests reportedly down 39% compared to 2014.
With the carnage of 2014 growing ever smaller in our rearview, could we now be living in the glory days of the NFL? Are things significantly better? Maybe! But before we declare that 2015 was the Year of NFL Redemption, let’s maybe take a moment to think if there was any bad NFL stuff over the past 12 months.
Well, 2015 opened in January with start of what would become the months-long soap opera known as Deflategate, a scandal (or “scandal” in air quotes, if you prefer) that cast a shadow over the biggest star in the sport and the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots as they prepared for the league’s showcase event. After seven months, the investigation ended up in federal court – the highest court allowed for ball deflation matters under the constitution! – and at one point or another managed to make Goodell, Tom “Coincidental Cell Phone Destroyer” Brady and the Patriots all take turns embarrassing themselves.
Never forget: the Patriots really thought we would swallow the claim that one of their equipment managers was known as “The Deflator” simply because he was trying to lose weight. Amazing. We may be dumb, Patriots, but we’re not that dumb. We’re not kick-the-ball-away-in-overtime dumb.
Once the offseason of SpyGate mercifully ended and real football began, we got lots of stoppages. Stoppages for video review of seemingly every play. Or at least for every catch … or not a catch … or whatever a catch is today under NFL rules. No one actually knows (and if they claim they do, they’re lying). We got more stoppages for injuries. To Jamaal Charles and Le’Veon Bell and Tony Romo and Dez Bryant and Terrell Suggs and Jimmy Graham and Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger and Julian Edelman and probably four of the first six guys you picked in your fantasy draft. Other times we didn’t get stoppages for injuries at all, like when the Rams kept Case Keenum in a game in November even though he was clearly concussed.
One player who didn’t get injured, thereby proving karma definitely had a bad 2015, was unrepentant domestic abuser Greg Hardy, who took the field for America’s Team (congrats, America!) in week five. In short order, Hardy broke the world record for lack of self-awareness by saying he was coming out “guns blazing,” commented on Tom Brady’s wife, and then was summarily declared a team leader by the fabulously wealthy and completely incompetent Jerry Jones. But I guess such is the kind of guy teams like the 4-11 Cowboys have to employ when they’re trying to win a championship.
It was also revealed this season that the NFL, who wraps itself in the stars and stripes at every opportunity, was actually taking payments from the military in order to honor soldiers at stadiums. Classy! The NFL also took money from its own players this season for the crime of honoring family members lost to cancer in ways beyond wearing officially licensed pink apparel from which the NFL profits.
As fall became winter, the NFL had to deal with the release of a major studio movie starring Will Smith that highlighted for the masses the serious dangers of playing football and pointed the finger at the league for covering up those risks. That was probably enough for a bad week, except a day later, a story was published linking Peyton Manning – the golden boy of the NFL’s premier family – to HGH, along with defensive stars James Harrison and Clay Matthews.
So for a quick recap of the NFL’s year – and apologies for leaving out any number of other negative stories – the league had its top two stars, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, accused of cheating; featured games marked by confusing video reviews, poor officiating and injuries to star players; saw Greg Hardy and Jerry Jones further bolster the perception that the NFL is not a friend to women; were exposed as cynical profiteers in regards to both patriotism and cancer; and had to endure Hollywood painting the league as the Big Tobacco of brain trauma.
Yeah, that’s quite a bad year. In fact, you can make a strong case that the NFL’s 2015 was even worse than it’s historically wretched 2014.
Yet there’s this one fact: TV ratings are way up over last year. And last year was an all-time record.
The NFL’s popularity clearly has no relationship to the league’s quality. To quote Concussion: the NFL “owns a day of the week.” Until something better comes along, football fans have proven that no amount of replays, commercials, PEDs, head trauma, violence or corruption is going to push them away. It may even be that the NFL’s continued reality show/soap opera/disaster movie vibe is bringing in ever more viewers who can’t look away. People want to relax on Sundays on their couch and be entertained. There’s nothing wrong with that. The NFL has plenty of blame to go around, but fans wanting a few hours of diversion should be the last to have fingers pointed their way.
No matter how bad the NFL’s on-field product is, no matter what players do off the field or what callous greed is displayed by the league office, football fans can’t get enough. The product is even worse than it was in 2014, yet the quality barely even registers anymore. It’s barely a story. The NFL being awful is our new reality. We’re numb to it. Roger Goodell’s NFL has conditioned us to expect garbage – and ask for ever more. Get ready for another serving in 2016.
This article was written by DJ Gallo, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 30th December 2015 14.41 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010