The Rise and Fall of the NFL

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Two weeks into the 94th season of the NFL and avid fans, casual fans and the general populace alike are calling for heads to roll in the wake of the recent off field behavior of some of the league’s biggest and brightest stars. I, for one, refuse to go into the gory details of these recent despicable actions of domestic violence and apparent child abuse. But I get the feeling that the NFL is being portrayed as an organization rife with criminals and thugs and is willing to turn a blind eye to these abhorrent behaviors in the interest of profit.

There is no question that the NFL is a highly profitable venture. When the league was founded back in 1920, the ante to own an NFL franchise was somewhere in the neighborhood of $2500. That would equate to roughly $30,000 today. The last two NFL franchises that were sold (Cleveland and Buffalo) went for around $1 Billion and neither of these two franchises could be considered as being successful over the past 15 to 20 years. In contrast, Forbes values the Dallas Cowboys at $3.2 Billion. If one were to assume the average value of an NFL franchise to be in the neighborhood $2 Billion, then the thirty-two teams that make up the NFL would be valued at around $64 Billion. That figure is more than the GNP of some third world countries!

So why would these Owners jeopardize their investments by stocking their rosters with players of questionable moral character? The truth is when you buy a ticket to an NFL game, you have almost a 2:1 chance of sitting next to a thug at the stadium as opposed to one of the players you just paid to watch. Back in 1999, noted criminologist Alfred Blumstein compared the rate of criminal violence by NFL players to that of the general population of the same age group and found that NFL players committed acts of assault and domestic violence at a rate that was less than half of the general population. As recently as July of this year, that study was virtually repeated and the results were that the acts of assault and domestic violence by NFL players was 54.4% of the same acts committed by 25-29 year olds of the general population.

So why then does the majority (reported to be 69%) of Americans believe that the NFL suffers from a “widespread epidemic of domestic violence problems”? In my opinion, there are a number of reasons.

  1. We tend to rely on information that we can easily remember. Certain events in our lives – good or bad – are recalled with ease. Our first date, our first child, our first car accident. These types of events are etched into our memories and, as such, don’t require a lot of effort on our part to recall. We were there and we saw it. Events that we have witnessed will always have more credence in our minds than events we simply read or hear about. Don’t believe me? Chances are you were not present at any of the following events but can describe every one of them vividly;
  • The Kennedy assassination.
  • The O.J. Simpson car chase.
  • The 911 attack on the twin towers.
  • The capture of Saddam Hussein.
  1. We have become a society of instant information – a lot of information. The introduction of 24 hour news networks, smart phones, twitter, instagram and the internet itself have given rise to the ability for the average person to have an infinite amount of information at their fingertips. Even when your fingertips should be grasping the steering wheel of your car you can “sync” this information to the electronics embedded into what used to be just an AM/FM car radio. We used to get the “news” after the fact by listening to it on the radio or watching an anchorman describe it along with a still photograph of the event displayed behind him. Not now . . . that still photograph behind the anchorman was totally dependent on a news photographer that happened to be at the scene when the event took place. Today, anyone with a cell phone newer than ten years old can snap a photo or take a video of a 1st round NFL draftee with a beer in his hand riding an inflatable swan.
  2. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”. For some reason (I’m not a psychologist so I don’t have the answer), people take great delight in watching someone or something that excels at what they do fail. The farther they fall, they better they feel. This is especially true in sports.

If you ask me, the current plight of the NFL isn’t caused entirely by the NFL itself. If you need to place blame, start with the media. From where I’m sitting, the media is in the process of killing their golden goose. The major networks pay an enormous amount of money for the right to broadcast NFL games. In return, due to the immense popularity of the game, these same networks pull in equally huge amounts of money from advertisers who pay up based on the ratings that the NFL generate. Because the advertising rates are virtually identical for all of the major networks (on a per game basis), each network has to try to gain an edge by inundating the public with information (factual or not) about the NFL . . . 24/7/365.

Then, add in the “Information Ambulance Chasers” who make their profits by sensationalizing each and every transgression as if it was the only despicable event that has occurred since the Lindberg kidnapping.

There needs to be some integrity and accountability within the media when providing information to the masses. I believe it was Walter Cronkite who once said, “Our job is to report the news . . . not make it news”.

The NFL itself is not without fault either. Their handling of these recent situations has lacked as well. They have stated repeatedly that they feel they need to allow the American legal system to play out before taking disciplinary action against a player. That, although admirable, doesn’t (and won’t ) stop the flood of negative PR that they are currently receiving.

The latest tactic of placing a player on the Commissioner’s “Bad Boy” list and, in effect, making a player inactive (with pay) until the legal system runs its course falls far short. If they want to clean up their image, then force the team to place a player on this status and put his salary into an escrow account. If the legal process finds the player to be innocent, he gets his money. If found guilty, the player gets nothing except his well deserved sentence.

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I am a transplanted Connecticut Yankee. My family moved to Northern Ohio in the very early 1950's and plopped me right smack dab in the middle of the Otto Graham, Dante Lavelli, Marion Motley era Cleveland Browns and I have been a fan ever since. I'm also an avid history buff so the combination of the NFL and history seems to be a perfect match for me. I hope that I will be successful in sharing some of my research on the history of the NFL and hope you learn something new while reading my articles.
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