Making changes while change is still possible

3-stooges-footballThe always superb Advertising Age recently published a thought-provoking, post Super Bowl treatise on the current state of the National Football League. And, as a fan of long-standing, I must say absorbing the piece was akin to being blindsided by an open-field tackle from the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis.

Did you know the NFL's future is in deep, deep trouble? As a matter of fact, based upon the article, I'd list The National Football League right alongside Big Tobacco and McDonald's as the three most likely brands to be completely missing from the American landscape of 2050.

Try tackling these hard-hitting stats:

- 1,500 former NFL players are suing the league in federal court, claiming the NFL fraudulently concealed the risk of brain trauma from playing pro football. That's enough players to stock a whole new league.

- The NFL's popularity among Americans is in steady decline. In fact, it's dropped two percent in the last year. Big deal, you say? Well, guess what? Professional boxing and horse racing were both America's top sports in the first two decades of the 20th century, and each dropped an average of two percent a year during the 1930s.

- Every year, an additional five percent of American kids aged six-12 STOP playing organized tackle football.  That means an increasingly smaller talent pool for the league to tap.

- When asked if he'd let a son of his play organized football, President Obama said it “would be a tough call.” To paraphrase LBJ's seminal quote about Walter Cronkite, “If you've lost (the sports-loving) Obama, you've lost the nation.”

Seemingly oblivious to this all-out blitz on the league's image and reputation, NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, has authorized a new branding spot from Grey Advertising that ran during the Super Bowl and will continue to air on the NFL Network. Its theme? 'Celebrating the Game of Football,' according to league spokesperson Brian McCarthy. Nice.

It never ceases to amaze me how many executives, and organizations, believe a major problem will simply go away if they keep ignoring the problem and, focus instead, on the excitement and allure of the product (and that holds true for nicotine, a Big Mac with cheese or head-jarring tackles).

Like other huge businesses, the NFL isn't about to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. But, if they don't start admitting fault, making wholesale safety changes and instituting a middle school education and awareness campaign, those of us who are still alive in 2050 may find ourselves spending Sunday afternoons in the Fall watching water polo, Seinfeld reruns or, dare I suggest it, getting off the couch and engaging in calorie burning, artery de-clogging exercise that doesn't involve head-to-head contact.

Were I the ghost of Christmas Future (masquerading as an NFL referee), I'd penalize the league 15 yards for 'flagrant disregard of making changes while change is still possible.'

One thought on “Making changes while change is still possible

  1. Who knows what the NFL will be like in 2050. I probably won’t be around then, so no need to worry. The game has changed from its early years and what hasn’t. Everyone talks about injuries. To me, it’s part of the game. Let’s face it. It’s a man’s game. Fans look for hard hits much in the way they do in hockey or in boxing. Yes, some like to take cheap shots or dirty hits and those are the ones who should be punished. But no one forces the athletes to play the game. Take the NFL college draft for instance. The kid/player goes to college supposedly to get an education. Yeah, he’s a good player — probably better than his peers and he gets drafted. He gets an agent and now the negotiating begins. But no one is forcing him to sign that contract that may mean millions per year and signing bonuses. It’s sort of the risk-reward scenario that we are accustomed to. Pretty much like the Repman mountain climbing or getting into the ring. You are aware that there’s a risk involved. And so do the players. They know that going in regardless of what level they play at. And who cares what President Obama thinks. If he doesn’t want his son to play football, play something else. It’s all about sportsmanship, developing athletic skills and working as a team. Heck, even baseball has its risks. I can remember playing baseball at the age of 13 and breaking my left wrist on a fastball high and tight. Now, it wasn’t a 100-mile an hour Nolan Ryan special, but the sun was over the pitcher’s shoulder and I never saw the pitch. Sure, maybe rules need to be changed in the NFL since the players are getting bigger and faster. I know they certainly are since the days I traveled with the New York Jets in the 1970s. But there was steroid use, too, in the 1980s and I know that for fact and can identify a Giants offensive lineman who was directed by a coach to “bulk up” and use steroids. And then the “bounty” scandal with Greg Williams of the New Orleans Saints. This should not be tolerated. But, in my opinion, artificial turf is partially responsible for many of the concussions suffered. Every domed stadium from Atlanta to New Orleans, Indianapolis, Detroit, Seattle, Dallas and so on has artificial turf. And underneath that turf is concrete. So when a quarterback is hit and falls to the turf, his head bounces against what, in effect, is concrete. The league wants to play the 2014 Super Bowl outdoors. Terrific. Then why not go back to natural grass, too. Grass, dirt, whatever. Since the playeers are bigger and faster, widen the field, too. The league needs to go back to fundamentals. The fundamentals of blocking and tackling. Now it’s bump the guy instead of wrapping him up and putting both arms around him. And sure the players can sue. But isn’t that laughable. One minute they stand united when the collective bargaining agreement expires. But once a deal is reached and they step back onto the field, they are out to beat the heck out of each other. Maybe they need to reduce the number of games. The preseason is a joke even though they reduced it from six games to four. But they are still playing 20 games between the preseasion and regular season before the playoffs begin. And if interest in the sport slowly declines, maybe the number of teams will shrink, too — back to the way the league began. To me, it’s a pattern that will happen will all sports — not just the NFL.