The NFL has serious problems.
No other professional sports league has been hit with a series of issues that threaten their long-term health.
And the NFL’s problems just got worse after this latest news.
The NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball all face continuing challenges.
The style of the NBA has transitioned into a nightly three-point contest, which has alienated fans who appreciate a more traditional game.
The NHL has grown but struggles to break through outside of concentrated markets in the north.
And the MLB has tried to shorten games to offset an antiquated 162-game schedule.
But the problems that the NFL faces are much more foundational.
The league already has the perception of being brutish, so it’s damaging for star players like Kansas City Chiefs runningback Kareem Hunt to get caught kicking a woman in a hotel.
It feeds into the narrative that NFL players are out of control, and the league turns a blind eye to their recklessness.
The 2015 film “Concussion” and related investigations into brain trauma cast a horrible light onto the league.
The issue provides kindling to activists who are intent on ending football.
The fallout from the anti-American anthem protest ignited by Colin Kaepernick continues to poison the league.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell panicked in the face of the protest and initially did nothing.
But Goodell quickly caved on that proposal and let the players continue to kneel during the Star-Spangled Banner.
In light of the divisive protests, stadium attendance reached a seven-year low, which is troubling because the number of protests tapered off.
That suggests the damage done to the league’s brand could be irreversible.
However, another issue that isn’t often discussed is the terrible officiating.
In 2012, the NFL used replacement referees, and it was a complete disaster.
The Green Bay Packers even lost out on a first-round bye because of a blown call.
The officiating problem hasn’t gotten better since.
The ever-changing rules on what constitutes a catch vex fans, and have led to some controversial playoff outcomes.
And in 2018, the NFL saw the most penalties ever called in a single season.
NFL crews assessed a record 3,447 penalties in 2018. First-year referees Shawn Hochuli and Shawn Smith and their crews finished 1-2 in penalties with the Hochuli crew assessing 253 and the Smith crew 228.
— Rick Gosselin (@RickGosselin9) January 1, 2019
Fans aren’t the only ones exasperated by the nonstop calls that ruin the flow of the game.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin chimed in on the issue.
After a game, Tomlin said, “As somebody who appreciates the game and understands we’re in the sports entertainment business, it is worrisome from the fan perspective. I do worry about what it’s like to watch that game at home with penalties being administered at the rate that they were.”
Tomlin said that early in the season.
Even he couldn’t have forecast the season would result in the most penalties ever.
Two big reasons for the spike in calls is the attempt to remove “forcible contact” to the head to allay concerns over concussions, and restrictive rules on hitting the quarterback.
It’s one thing for a player to “headhunt” and try to injure an opponent.
But most helmet-to-helmet hits are a result of form tackling and football players naturally ducking their heads when bracing for contact.
That’s an impossible phenomenon to eliminate with penalties.
And quarterbacks might as well wear bubble wrap.
Defenders aren’t allowed to hit them high, low, in the chest, or land on them too aggressively.
If the league doesn’t loosen up on the officiating, more games will be decided by horrendous calls, and the fans will get sick of it.