The old adage of "No Fun League" is true, once again. The NFL has hit what they think to be a pot of gold, and they're probably right. Earlier this football season we were told that the NFL wanted to do something to spruce up their Thursday night football games. Poor matchups and games have been hurting the leagues weekday games, so something had to be done. But what can be done, when on one had the owners and league like having a day set aside from the rest of the league, but on the other players are saying that it hurts the players, and in turn the leagues. The way the NFL has been operating as of late, it's no surprise they didn't listen to their own players.
We all know how quickly the world of uniforms has overtaken every level of football at this point. Point it back to Oregon if you wish. Alternate uniforms, crude designs, outlandish colors and patterns, it's happened. And it continues to happen. When sites are built, such as this one, to discuss and document such things, it's bound to blow up. College, high school, even summer league Pee-Wee football teams are joining in on the fun. But now it's hit the professional level. And that's a problem.
Nike took over the NFL apparel contract in 2012 after outbidding former provider Reebok. Nike's track record in the collegiate ranks, specifically that of Oregon, had many people worried about what the Oregon-based company would do to a league that was rooted deeply in history, one that had seen teams wearing similarly designed uniforms for decades at this point. Those concerns were settled when the NFL only redesigned one team, the Seattle Seahawks. In the seasons since, those concerns have popped back up, with new designs for the Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, and the radically redesigned Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Throw in two seasons of different Pro Bowl uniforms, and you start to wonder just how much reign Nike had over the NFL.
In an attempt to bring more attention to their Thursday Night Football games, the NFL decided to market to the uniform niche, deciding that they would like to see more color-on-color matchups, something that had been popular in the college game for many years now. In the early season days, we were told that the NFL was hopeful to see some of these games this season, encouraging teams to wear the colored uniforms if they contrasted enough. The reports stated that the NFL was going to make full-color games mandatory the following season. This brought up it's own set of concerns. For example, the AFC South is heavily dominated by shades of blue, whether that be the navy of the Colts, Texans, and Titans, the teal and black of the Jaguars, or the alternate light blue jerseys for Tennessee. To fully contrast in all-color games, the Texans would be forced to break out their red jerseys, and the other three teams could not face each other under these circumstances.
So what's a team to do? The NFL could abstain from scheduling such games, but we all know they wouldn't do something like that. That leaves the next best option - force teams to design special alternate uniforms for these primetime games, solely to please the league.
This all comes at an odd contradiction to the NFL's own uniform rules. According the the league's rule book, a team may only have one alternate jersey, and that design may only be worn twice during a season, and once more during the playoffs. The NFL also levied a "rule," it was more a suggestion at the time, that each team could only wear a single helmet, citing player safety reasons. This second "rule" was poorly researched, as multiple helmets do not increase the chance of suffering a concussion, as proven in the NCAA. Also, many players have switched helmets during the course of the season, with no backlash from the league. Both of these rules, specifically the latter, have put the NFL in an box. A box the league built themselves.
The NFL has built a presence in the nation, and presumably the world at that, that they will do anything possible for player safety. At the mean time, they promote causes and awareness of such on their playing surfaces, causes that do not have a natural relationship with the sport. The NFL continues to muddy their own identity and those of their teams by pushing pink accessories across the board in the month of October for breast cancer awareness, and then Military Appreciation in November with camouflaged details throughout the league.
The problem isn't in supporting good causes, and causes that should be brought to the forefront and those that need to be celebrated. But an NFL uniform is not the place to do so. For many reasons. Recently, the monetary figures of these promotions have been released, and it doesn't look good for the NFL. The league office claims they do not receive any money from the sales of pink and camo merchandise, and they're right about that. But their teams earn money. The NFL sends a pitifully low percentage of league-wide sales to their charities of choice, one of which being the American Cancer Society, a charity that is notorious for not putting their donated money to use in the field of cancer research.
The NFL's box they created has been pushed into a corner by even more of the league's actions, where just this week the league fined Steelers running back Deangelo Williams for wearing eyeblack with "Find the Cure" written on them, and cornerback William Gay, for wearing purple cleats for domestic abuse awareness. Williams lost his mother to breast cancer, and was denied the opportunity to wear pink accessories all season long in her memory. Gay's mother was killed during a domestic abuse incident when Gay was only 7. These men and others have been fined by the NFL for personal memorials. The rules put in place by the league makes sense, and is warranted. But when a player is fined for supporting a cause that the league themselves are currently supporting, even just for a calendar month, there's something wrong with the situation.
This past week saw the return of the NBA regular season, and in just one night the second ranked national professional league in the United States proved why their quickly gaining on the number one spot. On October 25, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders passed away at the age of 60, after a short battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma. To honor the great coach, the Timberwolves and their opening night opponent, the L.A. Lakers, wore t-shirts for warm-ups featuring the man's name. Just a day after the NFL levied fines against men for supporting causes near and dear to themselves, and in turn the league, the NBA supported a cause that hit the league hard. The NBA is no stranger to doing such things, as commissioner Adam Silver allowed players to wear "I can't breathe" shirts in support of of Eic Garner and his family. Silver encouraged players to express themselves with public displays, whereas the NFL seeks every opportunity to strike them down.
This league has turned into a full-fledged money-making business, rather than an entity build on growing their own sport and supporting those that have built the image of the game and those that continue to do so. This league that seats 32 greedy team owners have found once more an avenue to garner more money for their own pocket books. These men continue to find ways to move merchandise at the cost of their own image, their own rulebook, and their own integrity.
It's long past due for the NFL to look themselves in the mirror and understand the disservice they are doing to themselves, their players, their fans, and the causes they claim to support. It's time for the country's number one sport to come to terms with their hypocrisy and ignorance, and work to fix these things. The NFL is in danger of losing fans because of their actions. If they aren't careful, they may end up losing themselves.