NFL at its peak, but league needs to address some issues Print
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Thursday, 07 February 2008 02:53
NFL Headline News

 Roger Goodell was working the room, going from table to table and shaking hands with almost anyone lucky enough to have a ticket to the NFL's Super Bowl postgame buffet in downtown Phoenix. He had a smile on his face, and a lot to be happy about after a game that kept the country tuned in all the way through the very last Bud Light commercial.
It wasn't just the game that made the commissioner happy, though it would have been hard to write a better script than Eli Manning leading the New York Giants to a last-minute touchdown to beat the big, bad New England Patriots. Nearly half the country watched at one time or another, making it the most watched Super Bowl ever and further cementing the NFL's position as America's favorite sport.
Good times indeed for a league that seems to have everything going its way. In an increasingly fragmented sports landscape, the NFL is the proverbial 500-pound gorilla, flush and fat with no real challenges to its dominance.
e Colts played the iconic championship game that ushered in the league's new era, people can't get enough of pro football. Things are so good that not only are the owners getting rich but they're letting the players enjoy some of the fruits of success, too.
Los Angeles still doesn't have a team, but it doesn't seem to matter anymore. There are billion dollar stadiums going up in Dallas and New Jersey, and the league is so determined to expand even further that there will be games played in both England and Canada next season.
Goodell has gotten generally good marks himself for his performance since taking over the league, and he hasn't hesitated to crack the whip for misconduct on sidelines and in strip clubs.
Still, issues remain, and they can't all be blamed on one Pennsylvania senator who picked just the right time to issue a good sound bite. None threaten the league's runaway success by themselves, but Goodell might be wise to address them all by the time preseason camps open.
So here is a to-do list for the offseason:
wl practice of the St. Louis Rams? Why does Sen. Arlen Specter want to make it a federal case? Why does Belichick always look like he just ate some bad oysters?
Inquiring minds want to know, and this is one scandal that won't go away simply because the NFL wants it to.
- Stop the supersizing of players. The amazing thing about the NFL isn't that the players are freakishly big and strong, but that no one seems to know how they did it. Unlike baseball, no one seems to care, either, even when stars such as Shawne Merriman and Rodney Harrison are suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. Suspensions are rare, though, meaning a lot of players are either getting away with being juiced because the testing is not all that good or that they are just naturally 6-foot-2 and 275 pounds of solid muscle.
- Figure out something to do with former players who need help. This is an issue shared jointly by the league and its players' association, both of which have not been overly sympathetic to the plight of disabled players. Yes, the players themselves share part of the blame for taking pensions early and not securing their own future. But with individual teams worth more than a billion dollars and the players' union flush with cash, there should be a way to help the players and also eliminate a huge public relations problem for the league.
he NFL Network is that the move of games to the network is just another way to get people to pay for something they have always gotten for free. The billion-dollar contracts in place with television networks ensure that most games will still be available, but you are already paying to see games on ESPN and now the NFL wants you to pay even more to watch them on the NFL Network. What's next, a pay-per-view Super Bowl?
- Quit taking home games away from fans. The people in London didn't seem all that enthused over the Giants-Dolphins game this year, so why give them another game next season? And why make it a Saints home game when the people of New Orleans desperately need every game they have to help them forget what happened to their city?
The offseason is short, and the to-do list isn't all that long. Goodell has already shown a willingness to tackle tough issues and make tough decisions.
The best time to do that is when times are good.
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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org
 

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