As the last seconds counted down in the NFL Super Bowl, it seemed only fitting that the season surrounded by controversy would end in a minor brawl. Now that the season is officially over, many fans have the opportunity to say good riddance and hope that the NFL cleans up its act this off-season. Looking back on the Super Bowl and the entire season, the league certainly has a long way to go. Still, the future for the NFL and America’s faith in it is bright.
We can’t forget that even though the season ended with confetti and a legendary Super Bowl game, the NFL had major problems this year that require fundamental changes to their system. According to Spotrac.com, 49 players were suspended this season for a combined 215 games. An increase from the 2013 season that only saw 43 players suspended for a total of 167 games. In addition, the NFL collected $2,528,705 in player misconduct fines for violations ranging from wearing the incorrect brand of socks on game day to cursing at referees or shoving the quarterback after he throws the ball away. These violations can hurt the game and the players if they run rampant, but compared to the now infamous Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal that came to light at the beginning of the season, these other infractions seem petty and incosequential.
The scandal that involved former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice striking his then girlfriend in a hotel elevator alarmed the entire country and exposed problems in the league’s administrative conduct. At first, the League chose to only suspend Rice for two games. When the full tape became public, the league moved to suspend the former player for an entire year, a more fitting punishment. This double-take decision would lead to an appeal and eventually a cancellation of any suspension based on the NFL committing double jeopardy in their disciplinary actions. Ray Rice never played a snap in the NFL season, but the way in which the League managed the situation concerned many and raised alarms. Fans were concerned that the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell saw all of the evidence but attempted to quiet the situation by giving Rice a small penalty. The NFL needs to become more transparent, spend less time policing insignificant game conduct violations and devote more time to preventing their players from committing crimes that transcend the sport itself and throw the legitimacy of the entire league into question.
Still, I believe that football has potential to make a positive, long lasting impact on the country and its fans.
Since the NFL doesn’t allow players to come straight into the league, it has more players with college degrees than most other professional sports leagues. The NFL has the quality of employees and leadership required to set a positive role model for young football fans, but often fails to do so. San Francisco 49ers wide-receiver Anquan Boldin described this responsibility in a USA Today interview, “Whether we want to be role models or not, we are. A lot of us don’t choose to be on TV and [don’t] want to be mimicked by kids, but the simple fact is, we are, whether you want to be or not.”
The Night before the Super Bowl Sunday, Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis was acknowledged for the work he does off the football field in his community. During Davis’ acceptance speech for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, he challenged all NFL players to “step up and be a village of guys who make a difference and change this world.” He called on all of the league’s players to recognize the role they play in their communities and to rise to take actions that would serve the people within them. As Davis said, “Let’s show these kids how much we care about them.”
I hope that led by structural improvements that facilitate positive player behavior, the NFL commits to Davis’ challenge and improves the sport the country loves so much. Then finally, as Davis said, the NFL could “give the media something positive to say about us instead of always bashing us.”