The NFL and its teams are changing too much too often, and many of the changes are unnecessary.
Some of the NFL’s recent changes, admittedly, have improved the sport and its brand. Moving the draft out of New York and to a new city each year was a phenomenal idea, as was eliminating wedge blocks on kickoffs—a change that drastically reduced injury rates.
There have been other good changes, too.
Largely, though, the changes that the NFL and its teams have chosen to exact in the last five years or so have affected America’s most popular sport in a negative way.
THE NATURE OF THE CHANGES
— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) April 21, 2021
Of course, change is necessary for any facet of life, and the NFL is no exception. Change is the reason why an NFL game no longer consists of some scruffy men shoveling around a hideous-looking ball while wearing leather helmets.
Evolution is a good thing.
But many of the NFL’s biggest changes over the last five years haven’t been aimed at evolving the game. Rather, the changes have been either reactionary or aimed at instant gratification, both of which are destructive in the long run.
The NFL’s reported decision to allow linebackers, defensive linemen, defensive backs, receivers and running backs to wear single-digit jersey numbers certainly falls into the “instant gratification” category.
Traditionally, single-digit jerseys have been reserved for quarterbacks and specialists in the NFL, while college football has been far more lenient.
By allowing almost everyone to wear single-digit jersey numbers, the NFL is sacrificing part of its rich tradition in exchange for the cheap, quick gain of publicity that will undoubtedly be gained when prominent players begin to switch the number they wear.
Out goes tradition, in comes jersey sales and Instagram posts.
This isn’t the first example of the NFL and its teams sacrificing tradition for cheap, quick gains of publicity and excitement. Virtually every team that changed its uniform design over the last decade, with rare exception, committed the same fault.
A team’s uniform is its biggest emblem of tradition. It’s the most crucial element of the team’s branding. Often, a team’s uniform is iconic.
Yet, over the last decade, teams like the Browns, Jets, Colts, Buccaneers, Jaguars and Titans have made alterations to their uniforms that range from weird to shockingly bad.
New uniforms are certainly fun for a time. Fans get excited, merchandise flies off the shelves and the uniform reveal parties thrown by some teams have been pretty cool.
All of that, though, is nothing more than instant gratification that quickly fades. When it does, teams are forced to realize that they’ve sacrificed tradition and putting players in uniforms that invoke images of arena football in exchange for making a quick buck.
The Browns, Jaguars and Buccaneers—each of whom returned to their franchise’s more traditional look within five years of introducing gaudy new uniforms—certainly made that realization.
Many of the NFL’s recent changes have also been reactionary in nature, chief among them the ridiculous rule that allowed coaches to challenge pass interference calls in 2019.
Thankfully, that rule only stained the league for one year.
The only reason that rule was approved is that Saints coaches, fans and players loudly moaned and complained for months after the blown call that arguably cost them a trip to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2018-2019 season.
For the previous century of the NFL’s existence, virtually no one had ever thought that giving coaches the ability to challenge pass interference was a good idea.
If you choose to totally uproot a 100-year-old system because of an isolated incident, you’re bad at making decisions.
I know I’m going to be called old-hat, anti-fun, a fuddy-duddy, and perhaps some other names for making this argument, but that’s not the point, here. The problem with the NFL is not that it’s evolving or making changes.
Rather, the problem is that the changes are, mostly, unnecessary, and wreck tradition for the payoff of limited pleasure.
Evolution is necessary. Being reactionary and embracing cheap, instant gratification is not.
Cover image: USA Today