Few would doubt that in the world of American professional sports, the National Football League rules. From popularity, to merchandise, to TV, to just about any other measure one can think of -- the NFL is, and has been for many years, the T-Rex of the zoo. It's not even a close call. NASCAR? A very distant second, by about a 3 to 1 margin. As king, what the NFL wants -- they pretty much get.
History is chock full of examples, in sports and otherwise, of people with too much power having it go to their head, and thinking they can do just about anything to anybody. After all, who would dare challenge their authority? Yet there are times when the masses have to draw the line and say, "Hey, you're out of bounds. We'll tolerate a lot -- but this is too much". I'll get back to that.
It might be a fair comparison to think of the NFL as a parent corporation in name only that consists of 32 subsidiaries constantly competing against each other, but all the while sharing the total revenue that comes in between them. How's that for a weird business model? Like many corporations, the NFL has to deal with a union that represents the actual workers. The league is well known for changing the "shop rules" every year as to how the game is actually played. Different by-laws on kick-offs, helmet to helmet contact, horse-collar tackles, crack-back blocks, and hitting below the waist are a few recent examples, though I'm fairly SUHre stomping an opponent when he's down has always been frowned upon. Sometimes their rules are comical. Consider the dress code. Players have to keep their jerseys tucked in, their chins straps snapped during a live play, and are regulated all the way down to how high their socks can be. Obviously, players on any given team all wear the same uniform. Yet at the same time, the coaches, which are management representatives, are free to wear anything from suits to hoodies. Does that make sense?
Recently, the NFL quietly instituted a policy that flew under most radar screens. Any fan who is ejected from an NFL game will be required to take a 4-hour on-line course before they will be allowed to return to the facility. Supposedly the course has to do with anger management, drinking and bad behavior. This not only crosses the line -- it's hypocritical and even stupid.
The NFL itself does everything it can to get attending fans worked into a riotous mood. They'll hand out things at the gates to entering patrons to stoke them. See the terrible towels in Pittsburgh. They'll sell them beer and mixed drinks at inflated prices even the Pentagon would be ashamed of. They'll sell them terrible food at the same rates. The PA announcer will stoke the crowd even more, and the signs ringing the stadium will call for various chants. Often, after some of the above mentioned liquid refreshments and not so fine cuisine has made it's way into a fan's digestive system, they'll have to run like Usain Bolt for the restroom, which by then is likely to offer about the same degree of sanitary conditions as an outhouse in a refugee camp. Of course, while one is taking care of necessary business there, the crowd will erupt with a deafening roar. They just missed the best play of the game.
After all of that, is it any wonder some folks start hollering things they normally wouldn't, and get a little rowdy? Now the NFL wants to ban them from the stadium until they take a 4-hour course on being a more polite citizen? Did I forget to mention the very essence of the product the NFL has so successfully marketed is a bunch of guys running around at high speed trying to beat each other's brains out in the first place? The hypocrisy screams.
About 7000 people got ejected from NFL stadiums last year for various reasons. Sounds like a lot. It's not. Do the math. Not counting the post-season and ignoring bye-weeks, there's 16 games for 16 weeks. 256. Let's assume an average of 50,000 people per game. That's about 13 million fans. 7000 is about one half of 1%. Given everything that goes on, it's a miracle that figure isn't considerably higher.
To boot, the NFL mandate says if any fan that had been previously ejected didn't complete their mandated course, they could be arrested if found back on stadium property. This is where it goes beyond arrogance and gets stupid.
First, anger management courses are a bad joke. The only thing they seem to accomplish is further pissing off the people that have to attend them. Like the typical NFL "ejectee" from a game, a guy or gal might have got caught up the heat of the moment combined with alcohol, and did something they regret. No real harm done. Let them go home, sober up, sleep on it, and they'll return to being model citizens the next day. Forcing them to participate in a program which they neither want nor need, while being labeled as bad people, not to mention charging them some ridiculous fee for it, is a recipe for creating a bad attitude toward the "system" that was never there to begin with. It's counterproductive.
Second, how would the NFL identify a fan returning to a stadium that had refused the 4-hour course? No names are on the tickets, and I've never been asked to show ID going to a game. Though it may someday come to it, I'm pretty sure they don't have fingerprint or retinal scanners on the gates just yet. A general description? Well, good luck with that if they ban an innocent guy that looked like somebody else. Sam's phone will be ringing.
Third, though the NFL may have a lot of power within their own ranks, even to the absurd point of replacing their regular experienced officials with the Keystone Kops over pocket change in a multi-billion dollar industry, they don't have any authority to start arresting citizens over some rule they arbitrarily made up. I'm not even sure the typical security people at a game have a legal right to detain someone. Yes, they can escort a fan off the property, but arrest them? I don't think so. That might open the door to the wonderful world of false arrest and civil rights violations, criminal matters, and go a big step up from Sam to a guy named Jeff.
As the Commissioner, Roger Goodell certainly wields a lot of clout, but he might want to rethink this latest not so smart league mandate.
Even kings have no control over many things, like Mother Nature. It's not wise to taunt her.
Besides seriously disrespecting some of their fans, some of which may well be long time season ticket holders -- fooling with guys like Geoffrey Fieger isn't such a good idea either.