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The NFL continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons

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The on-field product loses viewers, the off-field issues create big headlines.

The NFL has serious problems. Declining ratings. Sloppy play. A convoluted rule book. And above them all, disciplinary issues. It all starts at the top with Roger Goodell and Troy Vincent, the self-proclaimed vanguards of protecting the game’s integrity. Two men, who oversee the largest sports league in the world and under whose careful eye off-field stories grew much larger than the actual on-field product.

No matter if it is a one-and-a-half year circus about ball inflation levels, investigations into alleged bounty and bullying schemes, or – with the Josh Brown saga the latest chapter – domestic violence, the NFL has found a way to make their own shortcomings and sloppy handling of each case the biggest headline. While professional football is more than just a sport, it is a billion dollar entertainment industry, the reason why is has become as popular as it is these days is the sport itself and not off-field antics placed even more under the spotlight by how poorly and inconsistently they have been handled.

With the NFL stumbling from one scandal to the next, though, the actual game has taken a backseat while at the same time the focus has been turned away from larger issues. That’s not good. The stories should not be about the league office’s incompetence, they should be about the game of football itself. They should, in case something does take place, also raise awareness for the problems that exist off the gridiron. The NFL, spending millions on marketing campaigns for daily play and breast cancer awareness, likes to portray itself as the good guy but is coming awfully short when it comes to dealing with actual real-life issues.

Unfortunately, this is the NFL under Goodell and his right-hand man. A league where celebrating a touchdown or wearing wrong-colored cleats can get you a bigger fine than violent play; a league where general awareness of something that "more probably than not" took place (but never actually happened) gets you a four-game suspension but physically attacking your wife (and which really happened) gets you one – unless there is enough of a backlash to force the league to re-consider to save face. A league led by people that seemingly make up the rules as they go along.

This process is destroying the NFL as it destroys the credibility of those running it. After all, how seriously can the league be taken when it invests unimaginable resources into investigations but comes up with nothing more than a flawed result? It has been like this with almost every problem Goodell and his crew have been confronted with from the Ray Rice fiasco to Spy-, Bounty-, Bully-, and Deflategate to what is currently transpiring with New York Giants kicker Josh Brown. In an ideal world, scrutiny would not hit the league office and its handling of the issues but those who deserve it; in the latter case Brown and the Giants franchise.

However, since the NFL has mishandled this case, as it did numerous times before, scrutiny hits the league more than Brown and the Giants. This mishandling is once again the main story (as evidenced by the fact that this article would not have been written otherwise), the deeper issue at play – domestic violence – is overshadowed. This distracts from the game of football and is a perfect example to why the NFL is losing appeal: It is turning into a circus where the skilled acrobats, who should be the main attraction, only play second fiddle. Add the decline in the on-field product and its presentation – too many flags, too many commercials, too many bad Thursday night games etc. – and it can easily be explained why ratings decline.

Of course, it should be pointed out that the current landscape of the media and how the game and its surroundings can be covered on a 24/7-basis makes the job harder for everyone involved as news spread faster and more unfiltered than ever before. But the NFL is not alone here as other major sports leagues have found ways to deal with this without creating headlines seeing their authority and approach questioned. The NFL on the other hand, has not. By taking inconsistent stances, by Roger Goodell preaching "integrity" but not following through, by the league office being arbitrary and non-transparent time and again, the league has exposed itself to – rightful – scrutiny.

Unless it finds a way to alter that and get its disciplinary process in order – how come Brown is still allowed to collect paychecks despite being placed on the "Commissioner’s exempt list" after all? – the league will continue to create headlines for all the wrong reasons. And we will continue to be left with a sour taste in our mouths every time Goodell and the league representatives try to talk a nice game.