2017 Under Review: 10 Controversies That Defined The NFL This Season

In one of my fantasy football leagues there is a small “Police Blotter Award” for the team whose player first gets arrested during the season. It’s hardly a prize to glorify, especially as crimes have escalated from shoplifting to domestic abuse in recent years. If I were commish, it would be immediately banished.

2017, an apocalypse in almost every sense, has been surprisingly quiet on the police blotter front – and for the first time in almost a decade this “award” is still on ice as the fantasy season nears completion.

If only this calm spilled into the rest of the National Football League. YEAH RIGHT!

The NFL’s lifeblood is in its lurking cells, each its own controversy. One dies, another is born. Another starts to die and is not rejuvenated by Retin A or blueberries but by a meddling owner or a season-altering call due to a rule that continues to make no sense. This anxiety-inducing season has been especially immersed in controversies, and these stories have sadly overshadowed the actual product. Here were the ten most significant:

No. 10: What Is A Catch: Part 12,326

Bears TE Zach Miller snapped his leg making a catch that was ruled incomplete because Miller placed the ball on the ground as he immediately writhed in pain. In Week 15’s blockbuster Steelers-Pats affair, the Steelers lost when a Jesse James catch for a touchdown was overturned because the ball bobbled as it hit the ground. Both rulings were correct in the sense that they aligned with the convoluted rule. But the catch rule is absolutely ridiculous and should not be reviewable given all the associated factors.

No. 9: Cam Newton Laughs When He Discovers That Women Know Football Too

In October, Panthers beat writer Jourdan Rodrigue asked Newton a simple question about WR Devin Funchess’s improved route running, Newton responded with a laugh, followed by the incredibly condescending and archaic view that “it’s funny to hear a woman talk about routes,” followed by more snickering.

The outrage was instant and thick. How could Newton think a writer covering his team for two season would be unaware of a route? Luckily for Newton the fury died down when someone uncovered a couple of racist tweets from Rodrigue’s college days. Rodrigue instantly apologized, while Newton’s apology came the next day.

No. 8: Jerry Jones Interferes with Roger Goodell’s Contract Extension

As Goodell’s extension entered its final stages of being molded, the fiery Cowboys owner waved a red flag. He threated to sue the NFL not over Goodell’s actual extension but over the process. Jones wanted all 32 owners to decide Goodell’s insane salary, not just a smaller compensation committee. Most assumed Jones’s dramatic threat stemmed from the six-game suspension imposed on Ezekiel Elliott for alleged domestic abuse incidents. This notion was corroborated in an explosive ESPN piece from Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham in which Jones, after hearing about the suspension, called Goodell and supposedly said, “If you think Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p—y compared to what I’m going to do.”

Jones backed away from his lawsuit but as the title of the ESPN piece aptly says, “Roger Goodell has a Jerry Jones problem.”

No. 7: Nathan Peterman starts for Buffalo in Week 11

Maybe someone should check the water in Buffalo because there is no logical rationale for Sean McDermott benching Tyrod Taylor for rookie Nathan Peterman in the midst of playoff run. At the time, the Bills held the no. 6 seed and while Taylor was not on his way to the Pro Bowl he had performed adequately. Shockingly, McDermott’s decision backfired in the most embarrassing way. Not only was the locker room rattled, but Peterman, a fifth round pick, was far from ready for his close up. He threw five interceptions and had to be pulled for Taylor at halftime. Taylor quickly re-assumed the starting role and the Bills remain in playoff contention. But if they narrowly miss the postseason, this one will be a stain on McDermott’s coaching resume for years to come.

No. 6: The NFL’s Concussion Protocol Continues to Be Flawed

As the league makes greater efforts to make the game safer, most notably in the area of concussions, cracks in its process have been glaring this season. Two cases grabbed the spotlight for vary different reasons.

In Week 10, Russell Wilson endured a blow to the chin from Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby. Referee Walt Coleman sent Wilson off for a concussion test, and Wilson was in and out of the blue medical tent in literally less than five seconds before re-entering the game. The NFL immediately said they were investigating the lack of protocol, an investigation that remains open six weeks later.

In Week 14, Tom Savage’s helmet hit the turf while being smashed into his own end zone. Cameras captured Savage twitching in seizure-like fashion, which apparently went unseen by the ref standing two inches from him because Savage re-entered the game. He was pulled a few plays later when he started spitting up blood and the severity of his blow became apparent.

No. 5: Bob McNair Considers NFL Players ‘Inmates’

The societal injustices that sparked Colin Kaepernick and a slew of players to protest during the Anthem were succinctly illustrated by Texans owner Bob McNair when on the subject of player resistance he reportedly said during an NFL owner’s meeting, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

The disturbing comment sent reverberations throughout the Texans locker room and the entire league. During the ensuing anthem of the Week 8, 30 members of the Texans either kneeled or sat. 

No. 4: The Botched Ezekiel Elliott Investigation

The Elliott case was not as twisty as Deflategate though it was close. Early last season the league announced it was investigating Elliott on allegations of domestic abuse from his former girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson. A year later, the NFL suspended Elliott six-games for violating its personal conduct policy. A subsequent snag arose when a report surfaced that the the opinion of NFL’s director of investigations Kia Roberts, who believed Thompson to not be credible, was not considered in the final ruling.

The Elliott decision had wide-ranging impact. The credibility of the league office was again under attack, as many believed Elliott’s suspension had more than righting weak past punishments for DV than anything specific to his case. But after appealing the court ultimately sided with the NFL for the exact reason they did during Deflategate: Article 46 of the current CBA gives Roger Goodell the right to dole out whatever punishment he pleases.

No. 3: #MeToo Hits Sports

As Me Too continues to sweep through entertainment and politics, those of us entrenched in the sports world wondered when it would hit our sexualized cesspool. This month it finally did in explosive fashion. First, an former NFL Network employee filed a suit alleging mass claims against a variety of NFL Network talent and an executive, all of whom were suspended from their current jobs.

Then the bombshell. An NFL owner named Jerry was put under investigation for workplace sexual misconduct and it wasn’t Jerry Jones. Jerry Richardson’s investigation came days before a detailed and disturbing report from Sports Illustrated dropped with claims of highly inappropriate behavior toward a slew of Panthers employees, including asking if he could shave their legs and grazing their breasts as he fastened their seatbelts. Richardson announced he was selling the team the same day.

No. 2: Colin Kaepernick’s Blackballing

Among this season’s starting quarterbacks are names like: TJ Yates, the aforementioned Nathan Peterman, Blaine Gabbert, DeShone Kizer, Matt Moore and Geno Smith. There are more. Many more. Most were unwatchable.

Meanwhile a certain quarterback who has played in a Super Bowl and wanted to be on a roster got exactly one real look. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll passed on Kaepernick because “He’s a starter.” HUH?? Carroll went on to say he couldn’t imagine Kaepernick not receiving a shot elsewhere. Hope he didn’t put some cash down on that one.

A few x’s and o’s types tried to proclaim that Kaepernick simply was not good enough for the NFL. That notion was dispelled when Ravens President Steve Bisciotti strangely explained that his team had considered signing Kaepernick but were worried it would “upset some people.”

Meanwhile Kaepernick filed a suit against the league claiming collusion. Unless some email chain or other tangible evidence exists, his chances of victory are slim. But make no mistake, Kaepernick has been blackballed.

No. 1: POTUS Enters the Fray

Breaking news: The president likes to tweet. This season he incessantly and consistently bulldozed his views on the NFL in an effort to shore up his base. Or maybe because he’s bored. Or maybe because they said it on Fox and Friends. Whatever the reason, his insertion into the NFL’s business storm brought a cloud of toxicity to the season that still very much exists.

Among his many, many, many tweets: