First, the NFL blamed the election. Next, the NFL blamed the national anthem protests by many of its players. Then, the NFL blamed one of the best and most watched World Series in more than two decades. But now, the election and the World Series are over, and media coverage of players’ protests of the national anthem has dwindled. The NFL has nothing left to do but come to terms with why its ratings are so low.
Ratings have been low all season, but now it’s week 10 and the numbers haven’t bounced back. The NFL’s ratings are down 10 percent from last season, according to Nielsen data. Not a single game last week was able to beat its 2015 counterpart. That includes the late Sunday afternoon matchup between Green Bay and Indianapolis, the Sunday night game between Denver and Oakland and the Monday night game between Seattle and Buffalo — three close games, and one tremendously important AFC West battle.
So, why is the NFL losing ratings? Because NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the front office are trying to legislate the fun out of football. In 2015, there were a total of nine flags for excessive celebration, while by just week two of this season, five had been thrown. Last year, 22 taunting penalties were called throughout the entire season. Through week 10 of this season, 20 have been thrown.
The NFL made it a priority this season to crack down on these “issues.” The bar for getting one of these penalties has often been set dangerously low, and the 15 yards lost by one of these penalties can greatly change the outcome of a game. Vernon Davis caught a touchdown in Washington’s week- two game against Philadelphia; he shot the ball over the goalpost like a basketball and drew a 15-yard
penalty to be assessed on the kickoff. The Eagles returned that kickoff for a touchdown.
Davis, an 11-year veteran of the league, said he didn’t know shooting the ball through the uprights was a penalty.
“I didn’t know it was a penalty … I was doing that when I was in San Francisco and now — all of a sudden — it’s a penalty,” Davis said after the game. “[It was] like, ‘Hey, where’d that come from, guys?’”
This isn’t the only high-profile case of a ridiculous excessive celebration penalty this season. So far, we’ve seen Antonio Brown twerk, Brandin Cooks and Josh Norman shoot a bow and arrow and Odell Beckham Jr. take off his helmet and propose to the kicking net.
The NFL’s reason for the bigger emphasis on celebrations is to encourage more professionalism from the players. Goodell said children look up to these players, who he wants to be setting a good example for.
“It comes down to balancing a lot of issues, the professional standards that we want to uphold,” Goodell told the Washington Post. “We do believe that our players are role models and others look at that at the youth level. So, that’s important for us to hold that standard up. And it’s part of being a professional. So, that’s one element of it.”
Do these penalties really set a good example for the kids watching football? You could make a case that Antonio Brown’s twerking isn’t family friendly, but I don’t think three hip pumps will corrupt the youth of America. To me, what it comes down to is that these men are playing a game, and I believe showing kids that they are having fun and loving what they do is more important than any sort of professionalism.
My biggest problem with the increase in excessive celebration flags is that it exposes the giant hypocrisy of the NFL. The league throws these bogus flags while promoting and capitalising on the celebrations and actions of these players — it even promotes certain celebrations.
Every time Rob Gronkowski scores a touchdown, the league tweets “#GronkSpike,” in reference to his signature touchdown celebration. As much as the league and I love the Lambeau leap, jumping into the stands gets a flag in every other NFL stadium.
The NFL wants nothing more than to be the center of the national conversation. Antonio Brown’s twerking and Odell Beckham Jr.’s antics with the kicking net put the NFL in the spotlight it craves. The NFL shouldn’t punish the players for having personalities and bringing more media attention to the league; with low ratings, the league needs all the media attention it can get.