National Football League controversies

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Roger Goodell has frequently been criticized for his punishments imposed on players and teams.[1]

The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league, and is not without its share of controversies. Much of the recent controversies have been surrounding NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and player conduct,[2] and the league's role in player safety.[3]

1925 NFL Championship[edit]

The 1925 NFL Championship, officially held by the Chicago Cardinals, has been the subject of controversy since it was awarded. Under the league rules during that time, the NFL title was automatically given to the team with the best record at the end of the season instead of having the winner be determined by a playoff tournament. There was an open-ended schedule during that season; although the final listed league games ended on December 6, teams could still schedule contests against each other through December 20 to make more money.

The Pottsville Maroons were one of the dominant teams of the 1925 season, and after defeating the Cardinals on December 6, came away with the best record in the league. However, NFL commissioner Joseph Carr suspended and removed the Maroons from the NFL after they played an unauthorized exhibition game in Philadelphia, on the grounds that they had violated the territorial rights of the Frankford Yellow Jackets. The Cardinals played and won two more games against weak NFL opponents, giving them a superior record, and were awarded the title.

Pottsville supporters argue that the suspension was illegitimate, and that the Maroons, who were reinstated the next year, would have had the superior record had they not been suspended. Others claim that Chicago were the legitimate champions based on the rules of the time. The NFL has investigated Pottsville's case on two occasions, both times upholding its decision that the Cardinals are the 1925 champions.

Relocation controversies[edit]

Baltimore Colts move to Indianapolis[edit]

The Baltimore Colts were moved to Indianapolis by owner Robert Irsay in 1984, after multiple years of lobbying to renovate or replace the decrepit Memorial Stadium, including talks of a "Baltodome".[4] In 1982, the Hoosier Dome (later called the RCA Dome) was built in Indianapolis, increasing interest in a move by the Colts. Eventually, the Colts moved to Indianapolis by Mayflower Transit, who did so at night to confuse the Maryland State Police and fans.[5]

Cleveland Browns move to Baltimore[edit]

Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell decided to move the Browns to Baltimore, 12 years after the Colts moved away from the city. After backlash from the fans,[6] the team and the NFL decided on a special compromise: Modell could relocate the Browns to Baltimore, but would play as an "expansion team", and the Browns will go into a state of "suspended operations". Modell's new team would eventually be named the Baltimore Ravens.[7] In 1999, a brand-new Browns expanded into the league. Similar agreements would eventually be used for the Seattle SuperSonics of the NBA in their relocation to Oklahoma City to become the Oklahoma City Thunder,[8] along with the San Jose Earthquakes in their move to become the Houston Dynamo (a new Earthquakes team eventually returned).[9]

Player conduct[edit]

In 2007, Roger Goodell became commissioner, and instituted a player conduct policy to help control off-field behavior by players.[10] Various amounts of criticism were aimed at Goodell, who was known for stripping teams of draft picks, as well as criticizing the punishments for Jones and Henry, despite Pacman Jones not being convicted.[1]

"The problem with the NFL's conduct policy is that it was designed not to halt off-field troubles as much as to squelch a looming public relations disaster that came after players like Tank Johnson and Pacman Jones were arrested two years ago. The policy was not an iron-clad set of rules and consequences but rather a fluid concept in which Commissioner Roger Goodell hands out punishment on a case-by-case basis."
-The Washington Post[11]

Minnesota Vikings Boat Party scandal[edit]

On Lake Minnetonka in 2005, 17 Minnesota Vikings players (Daunte Culpepper, Fred Smoot, Mewelde Moore, Pat Williams, Bryant McKinnie, Nate Burleson, Ralph Brown, Troy Williamson, Travis Taylor, Kevin Williams, Jermaine Wiggins, Lance Johnstone, Moe Williams, Ken Irvin and Willie Offord) were accused of throwing a sex party on a boat, with most of the players partaking in sexual intercourse. Fred Smoot was allegedly the ringleader of the party, and allegedly pushed a double-headed dildo into the vaginas of two women who were lying on the floor in the lounge area. After one of them left the party, he continued to "manipulate the dildo" inside the other woman.[12] Later, on October 19, 2005, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, in a reportedly profanity-laced tirade, threatened to remove players from the roster who were involved in the planning of the party.[13] Eventually, Culpepper, McKinnie, Smoot and Williams were charged with indecent, disorderly, and lascivious conduct.[14]

Michael Vick investigation[edit]

Investigators said that Michael Vick's dog fighting ring started in 2001 when he bought his house, and continued through 2007.

In 2006, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was involved in a dog fighting ring, and over seventy dogs, with most of them being pit bull terriers, with some said to be showing signs of injuries, were seized, along with physical evidence during several searches of Vick's 15-acre (61,000 m2) property by local, state and federal authorities. During the investigation, Vick was revealed to be working with 4 others (Tony Taylor, Purnell Anthony Peace, Quanis Lavell Philips, and Oscar Allen). Eventually, they were convicted for "Conspiracy in interstate commerce/aid of unlawful animal cruelty venture". On September 13, Vick tested positive for marijuana, and was ordered by federal judge Henry E. Hudson to "submit to any method of testing required by the pretrial services officer or the supervising officer for determining whether the defendant is using a prohibited substance", and before getting sent to prison, Vick was placed under house arrest.[15] After spending time at Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Virginia awaiting his trial, on December 10, Vick was given 23 months in federal prison, followed by 3 years of probation. Vick was later placed in United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth until 2009. Vick was later released by the Falcons, and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.[16]

Banned substances[edit]

Players' usage of steroids has been forbidden by the league since 1987, with players testing positive for performance enhancing drugs being suspended without pay for four games for the first offense (a quarter of the regular season), eight games for a second offense (half of the regular season), and 12 months for a third offense.[17] This policy has been praised by some[18] and criticized by others.[19] In 2006, former San Diego Chargers player Shawne Merriman tested positive for steroids, and was given a 4-game suspension. The incident later led to the "Merriman Rule", forbidding players who tested positive for PEDs from participating in the Pro Bowl.[20][21] Another popular drug in recent years amongst players has been the emergence of the amphetamine Adderall. Multiple players, particularly defensive backs, have been suspended for testing positive for the substance.[22] Adderall is believed to heighten focus and attention and to allows for quicker thought and reaction time, potentially giving a player an advantage.

Coaching controversies[edit]

Bounty Bowl[edit]

Main article: Bounty Bowl

In 1989, rivals Philadelphia and Dallas squared off in 2 games. Later, it was discovered that Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan had placed a bounty on Cowboys and former Eagles kicker Luis Zendejas. Concerns first came around when Ryan was the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, who allegedly pooled money into a bag, and if any of the Bears defensive players injures a player, he would get the bag.[23] Suspicions started in the game when various fights happened between the 2 teams, with Zendejas going out of the game with a concussion from a hard tackle by linebacker Jessie Small after a kickoff. After the game, Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson alleged that Ryan had placed a bounty on 2 players: Zendejas and quarterback Troy Aikman, with injuring Aikman being worth possibly $500. However, Ryan dismissed the claims as "high school Charlie stuff".[24] Zendejas later claimed that when he was with the Eagles, a player had once received at least $100–200 each for hits on a kicker and punter, which was the reason why Johnson made the accusation,

In the teams' second meeting, this time in Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, the original game set the tone for the second game, especially with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue at the game. Because the snow at the game has yet to be removed, the Eagles' notoriously rowdy fans, with a mixture of beer, the snow, the bounty and the hatred for "America's Team", threw everything within reach at various targets, like back judge Al Jury, who was knocked to the ground by a barrage of snowballs; Cowboys punter Mike Saxon, who was targeted in the end zone; and Johnson, who was hit with snowballs, ice, and beer as he was escorted off the field by Philadelphia Police. In both games, the Eagles swept the series, winning the first game 27-0, and the second 20-10.[25]

2007 National Football League videotaping controversy[edit]

In 2007, despite the New England Patriots going 16-0 for the first time in league history, the team was still in the midst of a controversy surrounding head coach Bill Belichick.[26][27] In the early part of the season, the Patriots were caught videotaping the hand signals of a New York Jets coach, and Belichick was fined a league-high $500,000, and the Patriots were fined $250,000. Additionally, the Patriots lost their first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft (if they made the playoffs), or their second- and third-round picks (if they missed the playoffs).[28] In a widely criticized move, the league destroyed the tapes.[29] However, Belichick was then revealed for having done so since he became head coach in 2000.[30] From an unknown source, the Boston Herald said that Belichick had done this practice with the St. Louis Rams practice before Super Bowl XXXVI, a fact that Belichick denied.[31]

New Orleans Saints bounty scandal[edit]

In 2012, the New Orleans Saints were discovered to have run a "slush fund" under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, that paid out bonuses, called "bounties", to purposely injure offensive players that the Saints were playing against. The system was known to have operated during Williams's time in Buffalo[32] and Washington.[33] Rumors started in 2009 during the Saints Super Bowl XLIV run in the 2009 NFC Championship game against the Vikings, where the Saints defense was allegedly trying to hurt Viking quarterback Brett Favre.[34][35] Other than the Vikings, the Saints also allegedly targeted Bears[36] and Carolina Panthers[37] players, and the program became even more notorious in the 2012 NFL Divisional Playoff Game against the San Francisco 49ers, when filmmaker Sean Pamphilon released audio tapes of Williams telling his players to injure a select group of 49ers, with one of them being running back Kendall Hunter, and to knock him out, as well as going after Kyle Williams because of his past history of concussions. Williams also told them to injure Vernon Davis' ankles and tear wide receiver Michael Crabtree's ACL. According to Pamphilon, Williams also appeared to put a bounty on quarterback Alex Smith after he told his men to hit Smith in the chin, "then he rubs his thumb against his index and middle fingers -- the cash sign -- and says, I got the first one. I got the first one. Go get it. Go lay that motherfucker out."[38]

Ultimately, Goodell handed down one of the harshest penalties in league history, by suspending Williams indefinitely, head coach Sean Payton for the rest of the 2012 season, interim head coach Joe Vitt for the first 6 games, and general manager Mickey Loomis for 8 games.[39] Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was also suspended for the season, as well as defensive linemen Anthony Hargrove (now with Green Bay) and Will Smith for 8 and 4 games, respectively. Former Saints and current Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita was also suspended for 3 games.[40] The player's suspensions were later thrown out on appeal.[41]

Player safety[edit]

There has been widespread controversy over the league's part in player safety. Goodell has fined Lions player Ndamukong Suh for stomping, as well as Steelers linebacker James Harrison for a hard tackle, as well as suspending the 2 players.[42]

The league has also been criticized for its efforts in preventing concussions, in which eight former players have died, and have also had concussions throughout their careers. With the suicide of linebacker Junior Seau in 2012, concerns arose about the connection between player deaths and concussions.[43] As a result, on April 9, 2013, a lawsuit involving 4,100 plaintiffs and 222 consolidated lawsuits against the NFL will be held by a federal court.[44]

Also, in recent years, the number of ACL tears and other serious knee injuries has gone up, including in 2013 an increase of 64 percent from 2011.[45] [46]

Washington Redskins team name[edit]

The Washington Redskins have been subject to dispute with the Native American community for many years due to the name redskin being a derogatory term for Native Americans.[47]

Free agency[edit]

The league's free agency system originally used a system that was adopted from Major League Baseball, where a player stays with a team until his contract expires, where he can negotiate with the team to stay. In 1947, the league adopted the 1-year system, where a team can only renew a players contract for one year. In 1963, the "Rozelle Rule" was created, where a team that signs a player must compensate for the player's expenses from his previous team. If a team refuses, commissioner Rozelle decided the compensation. The players union found this system to be unfair, and eventually won a court action in 1976. However, the league's collective bargaining agreement still kept the compensation rule, but removed Rozelle's authority. Ultimately, in 1987, the players union went on strike. Two years later, the union sued again, but was prohibited from suing the league for anti-trust. From 1989 to 1992, instead of the current free agent system, the league used a system to acquire and release players called Plan B free agency. The system consisted of teams protecting 37 players, and having the remaining players becoming unrestricted free agents. The players eventually decertified the union, leading to players filing individual lawsuits.[48] However, eight players sued the league for violating their antitrust laws, and calling the system an unfair trade restraint. The system ultimately was deemed illegal by the jury, and was ended in 1992.[49][50] The lawsuit eventually led to the establishment of the current system, which involves the use of a salary cap.[48]

2011 lockout[edit]

Main article: 2011 NFL lockout

However, in 2011, the league and the National Football League Players Association eventually failed to arrive at a consensus for the CBA, and eventually led to the lockout on March 12.[51] The lockout threatened to cancel games,[52] even though only the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game was cancelled.[53] The lockout eventually ended on July 21 with a new CBA.[54][55]

Referee labor dispute[edit]

In 2012, the league and the NFL Referees Association became involved in a dispute over the collective bargaining agreement between the two parties. Eventually, the league then locked out the officials in June, and turned to replacement officials to officiate the games.[56] A month later, the association filed a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board against the league for unfair labor practices.[57] The replacement referees were met with criticism from fans, players[58] and coaches.[59] Incidents included the week one Seattle Seahawks-Arizona Cardinals game, where the Seahawks were given an extra timeout,[60] week two where side judge Brian Stropolo was removed from the New Orleans Saints-Carolina Panthers game for being a Saints fan,[61] and the controversial ending to the Green Bay Packers-Seahawks game in week three. In September, ESPN analyst Chris Mortensen announced that the two groups are coming closer to an agreement.[62]

Expansion Draft[edit]

Originally, the NFL did not have an expansion draft, and instead, expansion teams were given whatever players were available; the rules at the time gave these teams two players from each existing franchise and the remainder from the local area to make up a 55-player roster. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were added to the NFL in 1976, their roster ended up being composed mostly of aging veterans and inexperienced rookies, and as a result, Tampa Bay had the first winless season in modern NFL history en route to losing their first 26 games (the longest losing streak in NFL history). After significant public criticism, the NFL created an expansion draft to avoid a repeat of this very poor start for future expansion teams.

Controversial calls[edit]

The league has been criticized for various calls that would later be disputed, and would also lead to a segment on NFL Top 10 called Top Ten Most Controversial Calls.[63] Some of these controversial calls have directly led to rule changes.

Immaculate Reception[edit]

Main article: Immaculate Reception

In the 1972 AFC Wild Card Game, the Steelers and Raiders fought to a 7-6 lead for Oakland. With 22 seconds left in the game, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw heaved a pass towards John Fuqua, and Raiders safety Jack Tatum collided with Fuqua at the same time as the ball's arrival. Tatum's hit knocked Fuqua down and the ball flying backwards. Steelers running back Franco Harris, who had been heading downfield in the event that Bradshaw needed another receiver, caught the ball before it hit the ground and ran for the game-winning touchdown. However, fans and critics eventually asked the question: Whom did the ball touch in the Tatum/Fuqua collision? If it hit only Fuqua, the pass would've been illegal under the rules at the time, and Oakland would have won; if it hit Tatum, or both Fuqua and Tatum (in any order), it would have been legal. The rule stated that once an offensive player touches a pass, he is the only offensive player that can catch the pass. However, if a defensive player touches the pass "first, or simultaneously with or subsequent to its having been touched by only one [offensive] player, then all [offensive] players become and remain eligible" to catch the pass.[64][65]

The Holy Roller[edit]

In 1978, the Oakland Raiders were trailing the San Diego Chargers 20-14 with 10 seconds left in the game. Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler took the snap, and saw Chargers linebacker Woodrow Lowe about to sack him. Stabler eventually deliberately fumbled the ball towards San Diego's goal line, where running back Pete Banaszak attempted to recover, but lost his footing and sent the ball closer to the end zone. Tight end Dave Casper attempted to pick it up, but was unable to, and kicked the ball into the end zone, where he recovered it for the game-tying touchdown.[66] This later led to disputes over whether or not Banaszak and Casper intentionally batted the ball forward, which would be a penalty, as well as whether or not Stabler fumbled the ball or threw a forward pass. The play was eventually ruled as legal. The Raiders would then make the extra point to win 21-20.[67] In the ensuing off-season, the league enacted the so-called "Ken Stabler Rule": on fourth down at any time in the game or any down in the final two minutes of a half, if a player fumbles forward, only the fumbling player can recover and/or advance the ball. If that player's teammate recovers the ball, it is placed back at the spot of the fumble.[68]

1979 AFC Championship[edit]

Against the Steelers in the 1979 AFC Championship Game, the Houston Oilers fell behind 17-10 late in the third quarter. Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini then threw a pass to Mike Renfro, who caught the ball in the back of the end zone. However, though television networks proved that Renfro was inbounds, instant replay was not in use at the time, and the referees ultimately ruled Renfro out of bounds. The Steelers would then score another touchdown and go to Super Bowl XIV.[69] The league would not institute instant replay until 1986.

Music City Miracle[edit]

Main article: Music City Miracle

The Titans and Buffalo Bills squared off in the 1999 AFC Wild Card Game, and the Bills led 16-15 with 16 seconds left in the game. After Bills kicker Steve Christie kicked off to Titans returner Lorenzo Neal, Neal handed the ball to Frank Wycheck, who then threw a lateral across the field to Kevin Dyson, who then ran 75 yards for a touchdown and the lead. This then led to officials debating over whether or not Wycheck's pass was a forward pass or a lateral. Referee Phil Luckett then deemed the pass a lateral, giving Tennessee the win.[70]

Bert Emanuel[edit]

In the 1999 NFC Championship Game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trailed the St. Louis Rams by 5 points. With 47 seconds left in the game, Buccaneers quarterback Shaun King threw an 11-yard pass to Bert Emanuel, who caught the ball, but had the play overturned after the ball touched the ground, giving the Rams the trip to Super Bowl XXXIV.[69][71] The league then enacted the "Bert Emanuel Rule" after the season: the ball can touch the ground during a completed pass as long as the receiver maintains control of the ball.'[72][73]

Tuck Rule[edit]

Main article: Tuck Rule Game

During a 2001 AFC playoff game between the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders, the Raiders forced a fumble near the end of the game. The Raiders recovered the fumble, thereby securing their victory. However, the call went into review by the booth, and upon review it was determined to be an incomplete pass due to the tuck rule being applied. Under the rule, if a passer "is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body."[74] The Patriots went on to win the game and ultimately the Super Bowl. Fans and experts alike have disputed whether the call was correct, and whether the rule should even exist.[75]

2002 NFC Wild Card Game[edit]

During the NFC wild card game between the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants, the Giants created a first half lead, which the 49ers overcame by scoring 25 points. Late in the game, the Giants, down by 1 point, attempted to kick the game-winning field goal with 6 seconds left. However, long snapper Trey Junkin botched the snap, leading to holder Matt Allen to throw a desperation pass to Rich Seubert, which fell incomplete, giving San Francisco the win. During the play, a penalty was called, but on New York for having an illegal man downfield. However, Seubert actually did report, but a different Giants player was actually illegally downfield. The 49ers would also have been penalized for pass interference on defensive end Chike Okeafor for pulling down Seubert, which wasn't called.[76]

Super Bowl XL[edit]

In Super Bowl XL, the Seattle Seahawks were denied a touchdown when officials called penalized Seahawks receiver Darrell Jackson for "pushing off" against Pittsburgh Steelers safety Chris Hope during Jackson's touchdown reception in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger scored on a quarterback sneak, and Seattle challenged the call, claiming that Roethlisberger did not break the plane of the end zone, but the play was confirmed after a review. In the fourth quarter, Seahawks tackle Sean Locklear was penalized for holding Steelers linebacker Clark Haggans during a long pass. Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was also penalized for allegedly making an illegal block during Ike Taylor's interception return.[77] The Steelers would go on to win 21-10.[78] Four years later, referee Bill Leavy issued an apology to the Seahawks.[79]

2012 Packers-Seahawks game[edit]

On September 24, 2012, the Green Bay Packers faced the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football. With the NFL and the league's regular referees locked in a contract dispute, replacement officials were acquired to call the games for the first 3–4 weeks. As in previous games, there were many questionable calls made by the replacement officials during the game. In the 4th quarter, with only 8 seconds left in the game, the Packers were winning 12-7, with the Seahawks inside the 30-yard line, with one last play to decide the game. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass to the end zone. The pass ended up being caught by both Seahawks receiver Golden Tate and Packers defensive back M. D. Jennings. The two officials standing near the play each made their own call of the play. One official seemed to raise his arms to signal a Packers interception, while the other official raised his arms to signal a Seahawks touchdown. As with new NFL rules on instant replay, all touchdowns were liable to official review. The play was reviewed, while the Seahawks crowded the field in celebration. After a few minutes, full of controversy, the officials declared the play's ruling stood as a Seahawks touchdown, giving Seattle a 14-12 victory.[80]

Almost instantly, controversy reigned as replays showed that the Packers' Jennings clearly had possession of the ball, while the Seahawks' Tate had only one hand on the ball. A loud outcry came out from not only irate Packer fans but also NFL fans in general. It was reported that in the hours after the game, the NFL commissioner's office received over 70,000 voice-mails regarding the play. The controversy even drew remarks from people outside of football, as basketball player LeBron James and professional golfer Bubba Watson both sent messages via Twitter giving their own criticism on the play.[81] NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. stated that the season has been "stained in a way that's irreparable".[82]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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