The NFL just can’t get out of its own way.
An otherwise exciting playoffs was marred by controversy.
Now the NFL is facing a lawsuit for a ridiculous reason that underlines a bigger league problem.
The NFL is in desperate need of positive news and headlines.
The anti-American anthem protests orchestrated by Colin Kaepernick and his mimics incited perhaps an irreversible trend of declining fan support.
The NFL’s brand, once thought to be invincible, has seen a decline in viewership and advertising revenue.
If that were the only battle the NFL is facing, perhaps the league could weather that storm.
But the league is also dealing with the serious issue of head trauma.
A spate of suicides committed by ex-NFL players with extensive brain injury and the Hollywood feature film “Concussion,” which delves deeply into the issue, have caused participation in youth football to drop.
However, another issue that just skyrocketed to the top of the NFL’s concern list is the officiating.
In reaction to the concussion issue and a few high-profile injuries to quarterbacks, the league instituted rules that make it incredibly difficult to hit wide receivers and quarterbacks without getting flagged for a penalty.
The rule change led to a huge rise in penalty flags.
But in the closing moments of the NFC championship game, the game to decide one of the Super Bowl participants, the league failed to enforce its own rules in a crucial moment.
In a tie game with a little over one minute to play, the New Orleans Saints had the ball well into field goal range.
The Los Angeles Rams only had one timeout remaining, and desperately a stop on third down to get the ball back.
The Saints called a pass play, and Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman blasted Saints wide receiver Tommy lee Lewis well before the ball arrived.
Robey-Coleman didn’t even turn around to locate the ball, a cardinal sin for a cornerback and usually a clear marker of pass interference when there’s blatant contact.
But the referees didn’t throw the flag in arguably the most obvious pass interference call in history.
Instead of milking the clock all the way down and kicking the game-winning field goal with no time left, the Rams got one last chance to tie the game.
The Rams tied it and won in overtime.
Saints head coach Sean Payton was furious with good reason, and after the game said the league office told him the officials botched the call.
The officiating crew had to be moved to a secret location after being harassed by fans at a hotel.
Other Saints fans were distraught by the call, they’re actually suing the NFL to force the two teams to replay the end of the game.
— Travers Mackel (@TraversWDSU) January 22, 2019
The fans are seeking damages for mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other punitive damages.
The lawsuit obviously won’t go anywhere or change the outcome of the game, but it’s just another black eye for the NFL.
In knee-jerk fashion, the NFL is considering making pass interference a reviewable penalty.
That would have terrible unintended consequences, including destroying the flow of the game.
Instead, the NFL should worry about properly applying the rules they already have in place.