By Barry Waller

Gridiron Gateway

The National Football League has become the largest enterprise in professional sports as Major League Baseball, the NBA, and especially the locked out NHL are facing futures that range from serious questions to outright disaster. Imagine owning part of a factory that is flourishing during a depression, and it’s easy to understand why ownership in an NFL franchise is an enviable place to be. Unfortunately, for football fans, things are not so rosy.

With the cash flowing, the league feels confident in every decision it makes, and when it comes to making more and more money, entrepreneurs like the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, and the Redskins Daniel Snider, who lead the group of “bottom line” owners, have tunnel vision.

Now the NFL has its own network, basically a worldwide televised public relations division. That may be a good addition for fans that love as much information as possible, but what does it do for the traditional way sports are covered?

I can’t imagine a 24-hour news report running on the “U.S. Government Network”, and it’s probably not even legal for such a show to be aired. The reason for that is simple. After awhile, people may start to think that what they are watching is the objective truth, something on which the American media is supposed to be based, instead of what Washington wanted folks to believe.

The problem the real media has, is that the NFL Network will get cooperation from players, coaches, officials and league executives, that even ESPN and FOX may not get. Certainly their own excesses and faulty journalism make those two TV sports giants, and others who “cross the line,” less pitiable. With the recent “60 Minutes” firings at CBS, and the scandal at the New York Times last year, alarms should be sounding as Joseph Pulitzer spins in his grave.

Instead, the obsession for ratings and more money for stockholders keep pushing the media further and further from its noble roots, to the point where being a “National Enquirer” reporter is no longer a situation to be embarrassed about. Like the NFL, money is driving the media that covers it to be more about flash, about hype, about dirt, than about substance. The NFL doesn’t like some of the negativity, so they start their own 24-hour infomercial, which will no doubt drive the real media to lower depths to compete.

Football purists are dismayed by the changes in the game which appear to be purely to enhance the marketing of the league, turned off by the focus on off-field and negative issues, and by the way some NFL players go about their business these days, and they see no hope for it to get better, or even not get far blacker for them. As long as the owners, many of whom are in it solely for the riches, and not the love of the game, are led in the direction they are, the future is dark.

This week, most of the talk is about the mock “moon” that Vikings receiver Randy Moss stuck in the faces of the crazies in the end zone at Lambeau Field. Though two .500 teams won road playoff games in exciting fashion, and the athletes on the field performed with guts, desire and displayed unbelievable speed and grace in making big plays, NFL fans are consumed by a crude mime.

Even if one second were spent discussing this issue, it is wasted time, and the same goes for naked TV sluts jumping into the arms of players on pre-game shows, and halftime “wardrobe malfunctions”. The fact that Janet Jackson’s bejeweled aureole was cause for some to demand new laws concerning censorship should terrify every American. You can bet Ole Ben Franklin would have a witty comment on that preposterous notion to change his lifetime masterpiece, the U.S. Constitution.

Somewhere along the line, people seem to forget why football is such a great game, and why those who play and coach it love it so. We forget why Rams guard Tom Nutten is willing to play with a torn ligament in his knee, or why receivers risk becoming the next Darryl Stingley on every crossing pattern. They forget why assistant coaches spend 30 years moving from team to team, spending so much time away from their families.

People who are around pee wee football teams, high school teams, and even college teams understand the love of the game, about putting together a bunch of vastly different young men and forging them into a team, about knowing your guys, and enjoying going into mock battle with them. Those that do understand that part of the game, and how it builds character, are truly blessed by it for the rest of their lives.

Now that the NFL is so surrounded by hoopla, so involved in ways other than the actual games, in ways such as betting and even fantasy football that inspire such bitterness and bad feeling, it’s hard to see past the evils to that pure heart of the game. It’s a shame, because amid all the negative “insider” stories is that wonderful core, because even with highly paid athletes, a team can't succeed without the same stuff that makes high school teams great.

The NFL seems to be intent on limiting individuality among its players, but there are still those who should be singled out, and maybe allowed to have more fun on Sundays. What Moss did was crude, but nothing compared to what fans get away with in Green Bay, and other stadiums, and it probably only got so much heat because of his past, and his strained relationship with the media. Maybe if the league allowed more fun team oriented celebrations, instead of outlawing them, this wouldn't even be an issue.