It’s one thing for the players and media to grumble about the NFL and its vise-like grip on, well, pretty much everything. When the league’s own teams are protesting — even if it’s being done in highly entertaining and creative fashion — the micromanaging has run amok.
Vontaze Burfict can continue to be a threat to player safety and Cam Newton gets mauled on a regular basis. But it’s Antonio Brown’s touchdown twerks and GIFs of Ezekiel Elliott hurdling Crying Jordans that will bring about the ruination of the NFL!
Hypocrisy aside, the NFL’s over-zealousness in cracking down on end zone celebrations and limiting game-day video content on the individual teams’ social media accounts is stunning for its short-sightedness. As TV ratings continue their free fall — Sunday night’s overtime game between Indianapolis and Houston was the lowest rated in almost five years — the league should be actively trying to appeal to younger fans, not reminding them of why the NFL is mocked as the No Fun League.
The NFL might think it is protecting its broadcast partners or its own brand by barring the 32 teams from posting their own video highlights or using them to create animated GIFs. But when there’s an endless array of entertainment options and what’s hot can change in a nanosecond, touchdown dances, highlights and cheeky GIFs can help expand the audience.
They create chatter and attract eyeballs, and that, in turn, raises interest. Look at the NBA, which has embraced social media with the enthusiasm of a 14 year old.
Teams are encouraged to share highlights and personalize them, the thought being that someone who sees a slick pass or a monster dunk will turn on the game in hopes of seeing more. And what do you know? The NBA’s ratings were up last year, for both the regular season and the playoffs.
Fortunately for the suits on Park Avenue, most of the teams’ social media accounts are run by folks who understand this. Since the edict came down earlier this month, along with the threat of up to $100,000 in fines for repeat offenders, teams have gotten increasingly imaginative in mocking the NFL’s cluelessness.
Instead of a clip of Derek Anderson’s pass to Kelvin Benjamin, the Carolina Panthers posted, “AndersonToBenjamin.gif” The Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns made their own “highlights” using pieces from a board game last played in 1979.
And, in the ultimate troll, the Houston Texans recapped Sunday’s OT win using a dubbed clip from the Eddie Murphy masterpiece, Coming to America.
With the entire country laughing at the NFL and its outdated approach, it’s no surprise that the new policy has found its way onto the agenda for this week’s owners meeting. While they’re discussing that, they’d be wise to re-think the ban on touchdown celebrations, too.
The NFL has always taken itself far too seriously, acting as if it ranks somewhere between curing cancer and rocket science.
Sure, it’s a $13 billion industry that dominates the U.S. entertainment landscape. But peel away the seven-figure paychecks and the TV rights fees, and it’s no different than what kids are doing every day in their backyards or neighborhood parks. It’s a game, and fun is supposed to be at the center of it.
So Brown twerked after a TD and Odell Beckham Jr. has an unusual affection for a kicking net. So what? Give me that kind of joy and exuberance over a dour Bill Belichick any day.
“Everything you do gets fined nowadays, right? Me seeing the tape of what not to do — and I get it, rules are rules — but I thought it would be funny to do that and troll the whole situation, so that’s what I did,” Cleveland Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins said after celebrating an Oct. 9 touchdown by doing the robot.
“I was glad everyone on the Internet interpreted it the right way,” Hawkins added, “because I wasn’t sure if they were going to get the joke.”
Oh, we get it all right. It’s the NFL that doesn’t.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.