Professional football fans may remember an incident where the title phrase became famous. But if you don’t recall, or if you’re not a huge professional football fan, let me set the stage; I will edit out one particular word so the sensors don’t get me 😊). Houston Oilers, head coach, Jerry Glanville is given credit for coining this now-famous phrase "NFL means 'not for long.’” He was wired with a microphone at one particular Oilers game so the NFL could “experience” the life and actions of a head coach, during a game and on the sidelines, obviously to intrigue us fans to watching and buying more of their product. There was a set of particular calls, made by NFL referee and back judge Jim Daopoulos, that Glanville felt were bad calls. So, while being caught on tape, Glanville was heard to say: “This is N – F - L, which stands for 'not for long' when you make them freakin' calls."
Well, it was a humorous anecdote at the time and became quite renown amongst fans, but I’m here to say, that if the NFL doesn’t get their act together, the not-for-long may turn into reality for their league.
Those of you who know a little about the league and its business are probably thinking I’m crazy for making such a statement, and here’s why. The National Football League (NFL) is the most profitable professional sports league in the United States. The total revenue has constantly increased over the past 15 years, rising from about four billion U.S. dollars in 2001 to over 15 billion U.S. dollars in 2019. The NFL takes in nearly 50% more than its closest competing professional league and nearly double the revenue of the third-place professional league. In comparison, in 2019, Major League Baseball (MLB) generated about 10.37 billion U.S. dollars in revenues, while the revenue of the National Basketball Association (NBA) reached a total of 8.76 billion U.S. dollars that year.
Plus, the NFL is a “club” and thus not generally subject to major employment or other EEO requirements, as well as free speech and other legal – bill of rights type of laws. Thus, players can be fined exorbitant amounts of money for the color of their shoes, the type of headbands they wear, and for saying something that essentially would be deemed free speech for most of us. So, why in the world would any sane person (trust me I’ve been tested 😊) say the NFL could be on its way out?
I’ll give you just two simple, but compelling reasons; Ethics and Safety. I will argue they are one in the same and that the NFL has no clue about, or desire to promote, either.
Safety: The NFL has had arguable the worst professional officiating since the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Fans would argue this was because the officials were part time and not being trained or educated during the season on the aspects of the rules, which certainly are similar …but…not the same as they are for Football at any other level. So, they made some officials full-time, but they didn’t really put them through any rigorous training or coaching, they just evaluated performance, and kept the best, they say, or what appears to most of us is, they kept the least likely referees to create a problem for the league. However, who does these evaluations? You would think professionals that know something about analyzing a set of rules, and assessing how these officials insured that set of rules were followed. People like professional referees from other leagues or sports, professional judges from other activities, or even possibly auditors, who do these types of assessments all the time? You would think so but NO, they hire coaches to be the evaluators, which leads to the teams these coaches work for getting obvious “considerations” during the games they coach. Trust me, the knowing fan has seen this all too often.
So, what this has led to is some very poorly refereed games and some very obvious and high-profile bad calls, which led to nearly the entire fan base enraged with the NFL. So, of course they coached and trained their officials more right, to ensure these bad calls didn’t happen – NO again. Instead, they began a philosophy of if you aren’t sure, then don’t make the call at all. Let instant replay, when allowed, make the call for you. Even worse than that, either it is an NFL mandate or just fear from the officials, but in the playoffs, they rarely call anything. This past season I saw only one game where the officials seemed to be trying to make all the right calls. What’s ethical about this? How many teams might have made the playoffs if the regular season rules were applied the same as they were in the playoffs – and maybe those teams in the playoffs wouldn’t even be there, because of such officiating.
I sound like a typical fan blaming the refs for everything, right? And how does this become a safety issue? Well No, I am not a disgruntled fan – the teams I cheer for have benefitted, and been victimized, as much as most of the other teams, without coaches on the evaluation/rules committee. But it is a safety issue. Players learn in training camp, and game by game, how the rules are supposed to be interpreted. For example, they learn they cannot hold another player – EVER – unless they are tackling that player. But in some games, they hold and it’s allowed, but in other cases it is not. This builds anger and frustration, which of course you cannot take out on the officials. So, the recipients are their opponents which leads to vicious and sometimes illegal hits, most of which don’t get called. Injuries, animosity, intent to do harm, throwing helmets, obscenities, and fighting wills, result. But, don’t say anything about these inequities because the league will fine you – in fact they may fine you for what they deem an illegal act even when such an act is not flagged, as illegal, by the referees.
I’ll get off the refs now. The other main ethical-safety issue is the game itself and lack of use of technology and other tools. We are just now seeing better helmets yet the officials calls on targeting the head still occur far too little. (OK, I admit I mentioned the officials again ☹.) What about the use of camera’s? With the money the NFL makes, there should be cameras on every goal line, both sides of the field, and on all the boundary lines, again both sides of the field. Yet, they don’t do this -why? Because they like the water-cooler debate as to whether or not a player scored or was out of bounds. We have the technology to make this clear and accurate every time, but they choose not to use it. Let me also point out, that using these cameras wouldn’t cost the NFL one bit, since these costs align to the TV networks. When these calls are wrong, they often lead to additional plays which in turn adds additional injury risk to the players. The same could be said for the first down markers – the technology exists to eliminate this archaic activity – although as a purest, this alone would not anger me if it stayed in the game.
I have to also ask, what is a catch? Reminds me of a great Chicago hit song: Does anybody really know what time it is or it should be Does anybody really know what a catch is? A player can catch and control the ball, but it may not be a catch. It’s only a catch if a football move occurs after the catch and control. OK, what’s a football move? So, a player can catch and control the ball, while still in the air, reach the ball across the goal line, and then drop it when he hits the ground, and it is not a catch. But a running back can reach the ball over the goal line and it is instantly a touchdown, when it crosses the plane, even if the ball gets batted away after crossing the line. When a running back gets knocked to the ground and then fumbles the ball upon contacting the ground, it is not a fumble because the rules say the ground cannot cause a fumble. But this same receiver, can catch and control the ball on the way up in his leap, turn as he falls to the ground, cross the goal line, and then drop the ball as he contacts the ground. This is not only not a catch, but it is also not a touchdown. Again, these lead to additional plays, and additional potential injuries.
Finally, the NFL is all about family’s…yah right. The NFL wants to promote family and encourage youngsters to get engaged in the game. Yet they play some of the most profane songs, constantly at the games, and they promote and excuse all sorts of questionable behavior. There isn't enough clean music selections to choose from to hype the players and entertain the fans? I don’t think one has to be a prude to say that drinking needs to be responsible and not promoted to excess, and this goes for gambling as well, but they promote both as if they can’t get enough. They say they care, so they cut off alcohol sales at the end of the third quarter, of each game, to promote safer and better behavior upon leaving the games - really? I've sat on the isle seat for many years at games and watched the throngs of fans, rush to the concession stands at the end of the third quarter, and return with 4 large beers per person, just before they stop alcohol sales, and after already consuming 1-2 beers in quarters 1, 2, and 3. That's anywhere from 4-8 beers over the past two hours, and these folks are going to be safe to drive home 30 minutes later - I don't think so. Not my idea of family friendly!
Based on all of the above, I see nothing ethical about the NFL’s acts nor do they promote safety, in my humble opinion.
My wife and I were season’s ticket holders for many years and we both love football. Quite frankly, it was the hypocrisy of the NFL that chased us away. I still watch and I am still a fan, but it continues to be increasingly more difficult to watch the debacle that has become the NFL. Yes, they are huge and powerful, and quite arrogant, but if they don’t return to the purity, fairness, and equality of the game (yes, they can still pay prima donnas huge salary’s), I believe their end is near. Are they too big and powerful to fail, well just ask Sears and Kmart, industry leaders who are nearly all closed today? Or ask Allied Signal, Pier 1 Imports, Borders Bookstores, Saturn Automotive, Pan Am Airways, Circuit City, Woolworth, Blockbuster Video, and Toys-R-Us. Each of these company’s were the best or biggest in the world, at one time… today they no longer exist.
So, thinking back to Jerry Glanville’s statement…he may have been directing it to an NFL referee at the time, but little did he, or the NFL, know that he may have been predicting this leagues future…Not-For-Long NFL!