Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bring on an NFL Lockout

Look, lockouts in sports leagues suck.  I suffered through one with the NHL as I was just starting to become a hockey fan.  But the NFL needs a big kick in the junk like nothing else.  It's gotten so big and so powerful in such a short span of time, it has a feeling of invincibility.  The league needs to be shown that if it isn't continually working to improve itself, there's nothing to stop it from going the way of Major League Baseball.

One of the big problems I have with the NFL is that it reacts to "problems" with as much force as it responds to problems.  The biggest evidence is the seriousness with which the league has cut down on post-score celebrations compared with the seriousness with which it has addressed concussion and injury issues.  The NFL could mandate safer helmets and actually enforce its quarterback protection rules for players other than Brady, Manning, Rivers, and Brees...but it doesn't.  It's pretty telling when a league is willing to dole out just as much in fines for dancing around a little too much as it doles out to players who makes hits that endanger another person's health and well being.  Especially when the league isn't even willing to listen to players on safety issues.  When Vikings punter Chad Kluwe questioned the safety of playing at TCF Bank Stadium, the NFL's response was "duuude...shhhh!"  It didn't even issue a blanket statement about how grounds crews were professionals and would have the field plenty safe come gametime, it just told him to stop talking.  The first rule about NFL is that you do not talk about NFL.  You have two responsibilities NFL, to entertain us, and to protect your players, and you are failing at both.

One of the things that has made the NFL the king of American sports is its accessibility.  With only sixteen games, its a pretty good bet that most fans will see every game their team plays in a given year.  You can't say the same for many other sports.  But in the day of a shrinking economy and teams gouging their middle class fans with Personal Seat Licenses, and the demolition of bleacher seats in favor of luxury boxes, that fan is starting to disappear.  Furthermore, the NFL's policy on blackouts is wholly unfair.  Teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars are allowed to throw tarps over seats, and the Jaguars and Chargers need only sell 50,000 tickets to achieve a "sellout" while better markets with larger stadiums such as Buffalo and Cleveland are often hung out to dry.  And it's not like the solution is difficult.  Make the cutoff for a sellout the size of the smallest stadium's capacity (61,500 at Soldier Field in Chicago) so that teams with large stadiums or small markets aren't hurt by those facts.  It's better publicity for the league because the NFL can beat its chest and claim more sellouts in a season.

I'm sick of the NFL thinking it can continue to get away with a substandard product.  It's not like it's difficult to use local broadcasters for each non-primetime game like the NHL does so that fans don't have to deal with two guys calling a game that either don't care about either team, don't know anything about either team, or both.  I'm sick of seeing some assholes from CBS struggle to find things to talk about when they have to cover a Bills game.  Ryan Fitzpatrick is from Harvard!  Fred Jackson was undrafted!  Holy crap it's cold!  I'm tired of being gouged with commercials, it's getting awful.  Catch - timeout - commercial - touchdown - extra point - commercial - kickoff - commercial - play - end of half - commercial.  God damnit.  The pregame shows have gotten so awful and diluted now that they're basically unwatchable and I don't know anyone that likes more than one NFL analyst or announcer.  Joe Buck is dispassionate and annoying, Chris Collinsworth and Troy Aikman are cocky douchebags, and Nantz, Simms, and the Gumbels are morons.

And lastly the cranky hockey fan in me wants to see everyone suffer.  I want to see ESPN struggle to have something to talk about in August and early September.  (Meaningless baseball games vs. cameras watching various NFL owners' grass grow...tough call.)  I want to see the NHL and even the NBA gain some ground on the NFL's popularity and I especially want to see ESPN start to wish it had hockey back.  I want to see the NFL fall, and not get its numbers back in 2012-2013 because it refused to address any of its problems and I want to see a league like the UFL do whatever it can to capitalize on the NFL's failures.

Mostly I just want to see the NFL held accountable for its shortcomings because up until now, it hasn't been.

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