clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Are fans losing trust in the NFL?

Some fans may not have had much trust in the first place, but questioning the motives of the NFL front office has continued to grow.

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Trust takes a lifetime to establish and only a moment to destroy it.

Before getting into things too far, I’m not here to promote conspiracy theories. I might have some interesting questions that some may take as that, but I don’t definitively say the answer is one way or the other. I thought it was an important thing to establish first.

When it comes to NFL fans trusting the league to present the product they expect, there are varying levels when it comes to those who distrust the NFL. While some have hit a level of distrust to where they think the outcomes are predetermined, there are other levels of distrust that may be much more common.

As I continue to keep my pulse on the fan base of the Pittsburgh Steelers as well as those from around the NFL, it seems there are more and more fans claiming the NFL is “fixed” or “rigged” have increased. Perhaps with the growth of social media, these voices who felt this way simply have more of an outlet to say such things. Whether or not it is the case, it seems to be a narrative, although I believe it to be a false one, that has been picking up more steam recently.

Why do I think it’s a false narrative? Because I think there’s too much money at stake for it to be otherwise. Yes, money is also the factor why some people believe this to be true. Either way, I can admit that there are additional factors that have come in to play where it makes it more popular for some to believe that the results in the NFL are predetermined.

What I believe is the biggest factor involved with the number of fans believing the NFL fixes their games is not only the legalization of sports betting and a much wider platform to do so, but the NFL actively promoting such a thing. There is a lot of money being moved around with sports books, and when more money gets involved, there are more questions about the integrity of things. I’m not saying that I believe this to be the case, but I can see where people are coming from who have lost their trust in the NFL due to sports betting.

Another factor where people may believe the NFL is in the market of fixing games is based on the officiating. With NFL officials being imperfect humans asking to do an imperfect job when they are supposed to make real-time determinations of the top athletes in the world where multiple slow motion cameras still can’t accurately determine the outcome, there’s going to be a reason for people to question motives. People simply have the tendency to distrust others first until a pattern of trust is established.

For me personally, while I do believe most NFL games come down to handful of plays that make the difference and officials can be a significant determining factor as to how these plays end up, I’m not sure the NFL is skilled enough to pull it off if it was actually a big, scripted conspiracy. Something would stand out to an even larger degree to blow the whistle on the whole thing. Between that and living in a world of constant inside sources leaking information, there’s no way the NFL could keep it under wraps. It’s just two grand of a scheme.

While I do not believe that the NFL is currently rigged for certain teams to win, there is something that I call into question almost weekly where I don’t trust the NFL. While I do not believe the NFL is trying to specifically have one team be victorious over another, I am also open to the idea they are not completely neutral within each game.

Exactly what do I mean by this possible conspiracy theory? I think the NFL is in the business of keeping games, particularly their highest profile games, more competitive than they naturally are in order to have a better product to sell.

When any instant replay review is sent to New York, I immediately question the process. I don’t trust it. Some of these plays are so close they really don’t meet the standards to be overturned based on the rules. But one thing I have considered in a lot of cases is if the play is so close that determination could ultimately go either way, that decision ends up being made to help keep and restore the best competitive balance in a game.

I’ll use a few plays from the Super Bowl as an example. When the Eagles were driving at the end of the first half already up by seven points, a pass down the sidelines was ruled to be complete to DaVonta Smith. After a booth review, the play was overturned and ruled that Smith did not maintain possession throughout the process. The ruling was not that Smith didn’t have possession before going out of bounds, it was that he had possession but lost possession when he hit the ground. Was there really a conclusive view to show that he lost possession even though the ball hit the ground? Was it really enough to overturn the call?

For me, the question I asked is if the call would have been overturned if the Eagles were trailing by seven points at that time. What if it was a tie game? In other words, did New York try to make it more difficult for the Eagles to go up 14 points before halftime? I don’t trust that they made the decision based solely on that play and the rules governing it while keeping game circumstances from affecting their decision.

Here’s an example from the other team’s perspective and how the game situation may have changed the call— the overturned catch and fumble which was returned for a touchdown by the Chiefs. If the Chiefs were trailing by 14 points, do you think the NFL would have overturned that call? If it would have made the game more competitive but not created a lead change, would they have been willing to do it? They easily could have said there was not enough evidence to overturn the ruling on the field. So in this case, it wasn’t that New York made a call to keep it more competitive, the question would be if the situation was different and they could have made the game more competitive on such a close yet pivotal play, would they have done so?

The NFL instituted instant replay in order to “get the call right” which should have helped establish trust. But when a play goes to review, do fans trust the correct ruling is going to be made? Just ask Jesse James on December 17, 2017 or Terrell Edmunds on September 15, 2019. These were both instances where the correct call was made on the field only to be incorrectly overturned due to replay. Having a system in place to help establish trust that takes the right call and gets it wrong destroys so much more trust than what it could have potentially built.

Since we live in a world of increasing technology, the human element that comes into play with many things will continue to have people question the motives behind it. The officials are human. The replay officials are human. The players and coaches are human. For this reason, fans may be losing trust in the NFL and the humans behind how it is run and how the games are officiated.

Perhaps the NFL is not rigged.

Perhaps the NFL does not have an agenda of keeping games competitive.

Perhaps the NFL is simply imperfect humans trying to do a job no one will agree with all the time.

Perhaps it’s that NFL fans are imperfect humans that don’t trust other imperfect humans when an enormous amount of money is at stake.

I would be surprised to find anyone who trusts the NFL to get everything right all the time. Because they don’t, there will be some mistrust involved. The big question is if fans allow the mistrust to reach a level that they can no longer enjoy the product.