American football continues to be one of the most popular professional sports in the world thanks to the millions of people who faithfully watch it, and the billions of dollars they faithfully spend on everything from tickets and cable subscriptions to Fantasy Football.
And while the National Football League enjoys much of the windfall of that popularity, the past year and season saw the NFL embroiled in a number of controversies that threatened its reputation considerably. From continued concussions issues to domestic violence, here are a handful of stories the NFL hopes won't make headlines again this next season.
When the NFL's independent investigation into the culture of bullying prevalent within the Miami Dolphins' organization was released in February 2014, it struck a nerve throughout the NFL and American culture at large. While the report focused on one team and on the conduct of a small number of players, trainers, and coaches within that one team, the nature of the complaints and its effects on the people bullied were so severe that it effectively called the league itself into question. Iscruel and aggressive bullying a problem in any of the league's other 31 teams?There's little doubt the league hopes that question won’t be either asked or relevant during the 2015-2016 season.
2. The Question/Inclusion of Gay Players
Michael Sam made history as the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL when the St. Louis Rams picked him up in the seventh round on Draft Day 2014. Unfortunately for Sam, his dreams of playing in the NFL still haven’t materialized: he was cut from the Rams' and then the Cowboys' rosters, and to date, doesn't have a single team vying for him.
While some may want to argue that the 2013-2014 SEC Defensive Player of the Year doesn't have the talent or skill sets to play professionally, most speculators assert that it's his sexual orientation-not his play-that finds his NFL jersey available for purchase quite cheaply and Sam not on a team. How the NFL hopes to settle the question of including gay players in the league isn't entirely known, but without a game plan in place, it's likely the NFL wants to keep the issue off everyone's radar this upcoming season.
3. Domestic Violence
Sadly, domestic violence scandals within the NFL are nothing new, but this past year's biggest domestic abuse headlines-from Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice-didn't fade like those in the past have. Instead, the off-field conduct of these two remarkably talented players overshadowed their on-field play to such a degree that their teams and the league finally acted to discipline them. However, the timing of the discipline caused many to view the NFL as being too soft on abusers. The NFL is undoubtedly crossing its collective fingers that domestic violence won't be an issue with any players this upcoming year.
That football is a rough game is nothing new, but the data regarding the many concussions suffered by players each season is becoming increasingly troubling for fans, players, and coaches. From memory loss to mental illness, the head injuries that players suffer in the course of a day's work for the NFLcan have serious and long-lasting effects. While the NFL is trying to enact changes that will yield less harm to its players, the future of players' brains and the game is at least a little uncertain. It's a problem the league wants to solve and put behind it as soon as possible.
When Tom Brady and his New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game, they not only secured another berth to the Super Bowl, but they apparently did it with footballs that were inflated below what the league considers legal. While temperature, time, and barometric pressure can all influence air pressure, the fact that Tom Brady had successfully lobbied for teams to use their own footballs on offense whether they were at home or away back in 2006 made the underinflated balls look suspicious.
Termed "Deflategate" by the media, the brouhaha attempted to call into question whether or not the Patriots cheated when they defeated the Colts by 38 points. While New England has not yet been found guilty of any wrongdoing, it's safe to assume the NFL doesn't want to field any questions related toair pressure any time soon.
Head injuries, the exclusion of gay players, domestic violence, and bullying-the NFL experienced a slew of bad PR over the last year and a half. With any luck, and some well-thought-out changes, the upcoming season will be one in which these types of stories-because the conditions surrounding them are improving-make fewer headlines.
Michael Sam image by Erik Daniel Drost from Foter.com
Rodger Goodell NFL Commissioner image by zennie62 from Foter.com
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