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Why it’s getting harder to watch the NFL

Across the 32 fields of the NFL, the game’s popularity has never been better.

The Superbowl accounts for the 22 highest-watched TV programs in US history and every Sunday afternoon, millions upon millions of Americans – as well as people from all across the globe – are glued to their screens, cheering home their favourite team.

None of that is an issue – not even close.

The NFL’s problems lie solely off the field.

The last fortnight has been widely regarded by league analysts and personalities as the worst in history.

Speaking on ESPN’s Football Countdown, Hall of Famer Cris Carter was almost brought to tears as he proclaimed players no longer had any respect for anything outside of the game.

Equally, Tom Jackson – a former player and analyst for more than 30 years – was forthright when he said that unfortunately, some people within the league cared more about winning football matches than doing the right thing and setting an example.

In the defence of NFL coaches, they are in fact paid to win games – there are people in higher places than them who are positioned to make calls on things off the field.

Having said that – the NFL faces significant problems, highlighted by the suspension of Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice after video was leaked of him striking his then fiancé, knocking her unconscious.

Just days later, arguably the game’s best player, Adrian Peterson, was indicted on charges of child abuse after allegedly striking his child with a tree branch on dozens of occasions.

Rice – despite the initial two game suspension handed down by the NFL – has since been sacked from Baltimore and suspended indefinitely by the league.

NFL head office, namely commissioner Roger Goodell, has come under intense scrutiny for not acting stronger when the Rice saga became public.

Goodell now faces questions from everyone and anyone on how he can keep his job after the botched process in removing Rice form the league.

‘The NFL needs figureheads who want for more than electrifying play-makers, but for model citizens who more often than not make correct decisions in the community.’

But what the NFL needs now more than ever is a leader – someone with the strength, vision and desire to provide fans with more than a glamorous on-field product.

The NFL needs figureheads who want for more than electrifying play-makers, but for model citizens who more often than not make correct decisions in the community.

Unfortunately at the minute, the NFL is trying to garner a league-wide standard on the fly.

As the Rice situation unfolded and continually became worse and worse, the league office announced a mandated domestic violence term that would automatically see players suspended. However, at current, San Francisco defender Ray McDonald remains active each weekend as he defends his own domestic violence hearing.

The principle of innocent until proven guilty is fundamental in our society. In most cases, it will be appropriate for a club to hold off on disciplinary action until after any court proceedings are finished. The last thing we want is for players to be penalised by their clubs and then later found innocent of the alleged charges.

Yet there will occasionally be cases where it would be appropriate for a player to sit out of the game for a period, especially when violence (particularly domestic violence) is involved.

The case of Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy is a good example. Hardy was convicted of domestic violence (he punched his partner and threatened her life) yet still managed to take the field in week one of the season. After public outcry, Hardy agreed to step down from football while the abuse charges are heard. A serious incident was treated seriously by both the team and the player.

With over 1,600 players currently on NFL rosters, there will always be those who step outside the boundaries. With over 800 players, the AFL is the same.

While 99 percent of players and officials do the correct thing both on and off the field, unfortunately it’s the one percent of people who mess things up for the rest of us. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Think Aaron Hernandez.

No one could have ever predicted the position Hernandez now finds himself in – imprisoned awaiting trial for two separate murder cases including three victims – but there needs to be no stone left unturned in the pursuit of bringing quality individuals into the competition.

I am no saint and along with every other athlete in world sport, I will probably do things across my career that I am not too proud of, but there is a clear difference between being a larrikin and committing a crime.

As wildly popular as the NFL is in the US and across the world, if it continues down the current path of violence, drug use and even murder then slowly but surely, those of us with proper morals will turn off the TV.

Image via Flickr – Au Kirk