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The root cause of the NFL's problems

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Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

For many years now, the NFL has been accused of systematically abandoning its core fan base. In an attempt to grow the sport, appeal to the masses, and increase revenues for its owners, the NFL has made changes to the game on and off the field - often to the dislike and dismay of many of its most loyal fans. They now find themselves in a position where they might need these fans to repair their reputation, survive the recent onslaught of public ridicule, and perhaps save the game of football as we currently know it.

Over the years, NFL loyalists have been forced to accept changes to the game that they grew up loving. No longer is it acceptable to have "white houses" in Dallas, or "party boats" in Minnesota. Bone crushing hits and team celebrations, like the Bob and Weave, are a thing of the past. The physicality and the brutality of the game have been tempered, and individualism has been weeded out. The game is marred with erroneous penalties, excessive fines and suspensions, and a dictator for a commissioner. Players are not only held accountable for what they do on Sundays, but what they do from Monday through Saturday as well.

As traditionalists tried to reclaim the sport that they once called their own, they were left defenseless, often reminded that the NFL is bigger, better, and more successful than it has ever been. They were told that the changes were necessary, because it has become more important to "protect the shield," which many people believe is a code word for money. This argument was indisputable. Owners were making money hand over fist, and lucrative television contracts were signed, which led to an increase in popularity and the expansion of the game globally.

The NFL has successfully turned what was predominantly a violence-craved targeted male audience, to an all-inclusive family demographic. They reeled in the casual fan with fantasy football. They targeted certain demographic groups such as women and minorities. This led to female reporters, breast cancer awareness month, the Rooney rule, and several sponsorships that are worth billions. As the NFL continued to grow and owners padded their pockets, consequently they exposed themselves to a higher degree of public scrutiny.

The bottom line is that the NFL has become too big and too powerful to sweep their discretions under the carpet. Too many people are watching; too many people care. Their actions, or lack thereof, always affect the masses. Politicians are now involved. Congressional hearings are being held. Constituents are writing in, asking their politicians to take action against the NFL. Fortune 500 companies are pulling sponsorships from the players and their teams in attempt to appease shareholders. Women, children, gay, Native American, and animal right groups are all applying pressure on the NFL, ensuring that their agenda isn't being overlooked or ignored. The NFL, deserving or not, has become a mirror for some of our country's biggest social issues.

I'm often asked what I think about all of this. Am I sympathetic towards the NFL? Should the commissioner be fired? Am I willing to come to the defense of the NFL, to protect them from the sharks that are swimming in the water smelling blood?

I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I believe the NFL has made their bed, and now they must sleep in it. On the other hand, I believe I need to protect my sport from outsiders who have no clue what they're talking about, and are just trying to push their agenda. The NFL has grown in to something that is unrecognizable. They spend so much time and exert so much energy trying to appease and appeal to everyone, when the focus should be on the core fans that the league was built around. Being the biggest and the baddest kid on the block is lucrative and has its benefits, but when the dust settles, the very people that padded your pockets are the same ones standing on the side with their pitchforks calling for your head. Loyalty is a rare commodity these days, and it is essential to a relationship in order for it to last. The NFL should remember that.

There are snakes that go months without eating, and then they finally catch something, but they are so hungry that they suffocate while they're eating. One opportunity at a time. - Don Draper, ‘Mad Men'