The NFL is Nearing Unwatchable

“Too Many Commercials!” “A Record Number of Flags Thrown!” “Too Many Instant Replays! “The Art of Defense is Over!”

There are other headlines in the National Football League (NFL), but those headlines have the league tottering.

The NFL is still enjoyable for me, thanks to a technological invention called the DVR, but it’s tottering on the brink of unwatchable. My current routine NFL viewing habits involve me taping the game and waiting 45 minutes to an hour before watching the game. This time allotment usually allows me to skip the inane gibber-gabber in the pregame analysis, most of the commercials, and the time it takes for an official to review all of the instant replays in the game now. The latter often involves the broadcast network filling that time by replaying the play in question about 15 to 20 times. If you are still an NFL fan, and you don’t have a DVR, I have no idea how you maintain peak interest. On those occasions when I go to a friend’s house, we usually talk through those delays, until we eventually lose track of the game as it plays in the background. I have to imagine that the current NFL is grateful for the technological innovation, for if it weren’t for the DVR, I know I wouldn’t be watching anymore.    penalty_flag

Although NFL referees are the face of the problem for the current rise in penalties, they are just following the orders of The NFL’s Competition Committee (NFLCC). The NFLCC was set up to make the game more fair, to protect the players, and to free up offenses to score points. The NFLCC might be the most powerful body of people, controlling what the audience sees on the field. The NFLCC is comprised of representatives from eight different teams, and they are team owners, general managers, presidents, and one coach. They are a reactionary body who pass edicts down to referees. If the NFLCC believes that the offense is holding too often or the defense is getting away with pass interference too often, for example, the audience should expect to see a flurry of flags to try to curb the activity in question in the week that follows.

The NFLCC also tries to find creative and inventive ways to make the NFL a pass-friendly league to the point that quarterbacks (QB) and wide receivers (WR) are now breaking every record on the books. The creative and inventive methods that they once used to tweak the game are now becoming so blatant that it’s obvious to every core, NFL fan that the competition committee doesn’t just want a more pass-friendly league. They want what the cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers, Richard Sherman once called “A more fantasy-friendly league.”

The NFLCC has proven reactionary in some cases, and when they realize that they’re perceived as too friendly to the offense, they call for officials to ramp up offensive pass interference calls, hands to the face calls on the offensive linemen, and defensive holding calls on defensive lineman. To rectify a situation, they almost always call for more penalties to be called. Their goal, I can only presume, is to have as many penalties called on the offense as the defense, but the end result is more penalties.

We should note that with few exceptions most that the penalties being called by today’s referees are not new, but that there is a greater concentration, based on certain points of emphasis, than there were in any of the previous years. Some of them, usually the game’s announcers, defend these new penalties in ways we core, NFL fans find incomprehensible. Most of the coaches in the NFL also call for more replays on more plays, and more penalties, and the only casualty is the game and the fans.

The network announcers are supposed to represent the voice of the fan, but when another yellow flag lands on the field, we usually hear the announcers say something along the lines of, “… and guess what … another flag.” This, essentially, puts the blame on the player who committed the infraction. Yet, when we view the replay of the infraction, we often see a questionable infraction that suggests that the current NFL referee now defaults to throwing a flag. We can only assume that the points an NFL official accrues throughout a week favor a call, however questionable, over a missed call. If I were an announcer, the audience of the broadcast would tire of my “let them play” cries.

The current NFL and college football announcers decry the rare penalties in-game officials miss. “You want more penalties?” I want to scream at the screen. “Who do you represent in this call for more penalties, because I know it’s not me.” I’ve reached a point, a point near no return, where I no longer care if an official misses a call against my favorite team, if the alternative means another yellow flag. I no longer take any joy from a penalty against the opposition that awards my favorite team a first down. These are relatively new concepts for me, but I’m sick of it. I’m sick of all of the penalties, and I just want the NFLCC to loosen these restrictions up and let the players on the field play some football.

The calls for instant replay are also becoming absolutely ridiculous. I fast-forwarded through a call for an instant reply, the cut to a commercial, and the follow up decision, and I calculated an eight minute span. That time-span occurred on two different occasions in the same game. The other ten to twenty calls for a reply weren’t that long, but I don’t know how other viewers can maintain peak interest in a game that is broken up with such lengthy breaks?

Certain Points of Emphasis

While it may be true that these are not new penalties, no one can argue that these new points of emphasis on some rules have led to more penalties being called, more confusion regarding the consistency of those calls, and more delays in the game. The resultant complaint, as evidenced by Richard Sherman’s, is that the league has turned its officials against the once beloved art of defense.

Most defenses do not have a Richard Sherman, or an Aquib Talib, that can play hands-off and still cover a top receiver, so most defenses have little-to-no hope of stopping the league’s high powered offenses. To rectify this perception, the competition committee put in other points of emphasis to ostensibly level the playing field. Rather than narrow the definition of illegal contact, beyond five yards, they instituted a point of emphasis on offensive pass interference, and pick plays, which has led to led to more penalties being called, more confusion on the inconsistency of those calls, and more delays in the game.

This has all led to the perception that a penalty is called on just about every series of downs, which statistically it is not, but perception beats reality in most cases. It has also led to what seems like a penalty on just about every passing play, which again is not statistically true, but perception beats reality. It has led the game’s greatest fans from the dramatic anticipation of: “Is he, or isn’t he, going to catch that pass?” to “Is he, or isn’t he, going to throw a flag?”

“All your life you grow up saying I’m only going to call a foul if it creates an advantage,” said former official, and former Senior Director of officials, Mike Pereira. “You can’t look at it that way anymore. Any contact, it’s a foul.”

The old saying that the best referees in the game are the ones that you don’t remember when the game is over, is now out the window. Referees now affect drives with their new “When in doubt, throw the flag” modus operandi, and the way the game is played, and ultimately the outcomes of some games. Anyone who doubts this change, need only look to the broadcasting booth where just about every major broadcasting now has a go-to-guy, former referee to help analyze and explain the calls that are being made on the field.

“The officials may take the heat (for this),” Mike Pereira said in an interview with UT San Diego, “But the heat should go to the (NFL’s) Competition Committee. Why do they keep doing this? There already was a league record for most point scored.

“The players will have to adjust, not the officials.”{1}

One of the many enjoyable aspects of watching sports is the historical comparison between athletes of another era. Is Drew Brees as good, or better, than Joe Montana, is Ben Roethlisberger as good as John Elway, is Peyton Manning as good, or better, than Dan Marino or Johnny Unitas? NFL game announcers now speak of current QBs and WRs breaking those old records held by Hall of Fame players. No one cares anymore, in much the same way no one cared about the Major League Baseball (MLB) records that were broken at the turn of the millennium. Most of those MLB records —the home run records in particular— mean nothing now, and the NFL’s passing yardage, touchdowns, and receptions now carry the same asterisks in the minds of the core NFL fans of the future. The game is different now, old NFL fans now tell new ones that claim that current players are just better now. You just cannot compare them line by line anymore.

The NFL does not have the rich, century old history of the MLB, and the NFL is not as reliant on comparisons via records, but even its relatively newer, and less pertinent, traditions are being eviscerated through the points of emphasis that now foster a pass-friendly, fantasy-friendly game that breaks records on an almost weekly basis. We all saw what happened to the MLB, when they began desperately tinkering with their game (post-strike) to attract a broader audience, but the powers that be in the NFL seem oblivious to the aftermath that resulted from all that tinkering.

The idea that the NFL might follow the MLB down the path to total unwatchability seems improbable, as the game has never been more popular. As the NFL institutes on field and off field bells and whistles to broaden the base, the indispensable base is starting to think the NFL views them as dispensable. We’ve burned through a number of DVRs fast forwarding through the pregame commentaries that focus on non-game related activities, and the commercials and replays that test the fan’s endurance. Some of us even go so far as to turn the volume down during a game, so we don’t have to hear commentary from the broadcaster’s chosen analyst defend referees, the NFLCC, and rules in general. We try very hard to ignore the new aspects of the game we don’t care for in favor of those we do, but the NFL is making this more difficult with every passing year. Even while we grumble, however, we have some sympathy for those placed in the impossible place of trying to please Vegas gamblers, fantasy football players, and all of the people all of the time, but when they stoop to please the others too often the core NFL might reach that point of estrangement that they consider the game unwatchable.


How to Succeed in Writing VI: Follow guidelines, and let your freak flag fly!

Mike Patton

“There’s a right way to do things, and a wrong way!”  My Dad used to say. “And you always choose the wrong way!”  All artists have a natural proclivity to doing things the other way, a different way, and “the wrong way”.  Those who want to write a best-seller, sing a top 40 song, or sell a mainstream painting, study up on the trends of the market, and they have all their formulas for success spelled out for them in the various “self-help” guides that are available in the marketplace.  Artists, true artists, are the freaks, the odd balls, and the weirdoes of our society.

If these artists didn’t have certain predilections in life, they probably would’ve been better athletes in high school, and more popular, and less inclined to eventually have the angst that drove them to do what they would ended up doing.  They probably would’ve made better employees, better spouses, better parents, and better people.  Their people probably would’ve enjoyed their company more if they fell in line with the practiced repetitions that led to better muscle memory in all these avenues of life.  They probably would’ve been happier people and fit into society better, but they chose a different path in life.

Marcel Proust

“Everything great in the world comes from Neurotics.  They alone have founded our religion and composed our masterpieces,” –Marcel Proust.

To say that an artist chooses his path in life is a bit of a misnomer, for most artists fell into expression as a form of therapy.  They’ve usually had an incident, or a series of incidents, that they couldn’t quite get past in the accepted ways, but they made decisions on how to deal with them in their own way.  Most artists didn’t “reach out” for others to help them deal with that which plagued them, or if they did they recognized the fact that most people don’t care about other people’s problems.  Either that, or they didn’t receive any satisfaction from sympathetic responses.  Most artists internalized their pain, until it exploded into some form of expression.

Expression meant free-form expression to them early on.  It meant being outrageous, and offensive, and playing the game by their own rules.  If they had good mentors though, they learned that much of this resulted in sloppy and undisciplined work.  The whole reason they entered this field of expression was to expunge the toxins they had coursing through their veins, but their mentors told them there were rules and guidelines to doing this properly.  Most artists angrily accepted that fact.  They believed that artists should think outside the box, but they learned that true artists would eventually have to know what was in the box is if they ever hoped to violate it properly.

A friend of mine is not artistic, but he reads a lot of novels, and he knows their rules.  He also gets bogged down in details.  He circles offensive material, and he suggests that I delete, or edit, those portions.  He doesn’t know art in this sense, and he doesn’t care.  He knows the rules of society, and how those rules were applied by Hemingway and Faulkner, and he knows I’m offensive.  This friend wouldn’t be able to write one word of fiction.  He could get so boxed in by the rules that every word would be written, edited, and then deleted.  He would write a novel that would be as entertaining as an instructional manual for a park bench, or the proper use of fly paper.  He would’ve made a better editor, if he came to that crossroad.

The differences between an individual who knows the rules, but doesn’t know how to apply them in an artistic manner, are the differences between an artistic writer and an editor.  Take a look at some of the names of the people who have written the articles on developing the perfect character, or the most dynamic conflict.  You’ve probably never heard of them, for they know as little about writing an artistic novel as you do.  Some people are excellent editors and teachers, but they know little to nothing about being an artist.  The opposite is usually true of artists, and this is why freelance editors are making such a great living in the age of the rule breaking, freelance eBook writer.  It is also why the advice of most artists, such as myself, is to just do it.  Don’t talk about writing, don’t hold yourself up as a writer when you don’t write, and don’t complain about the arduous process involved.  Just do it!  Doing it, will help you figure out why you can do it or not.  The other important note on this topic is that those who teach can’t teach you how to write your novel.  They can give you general guidelines that you’ll need to know, but they can’t teach you the art of writing, and the art of letting your freak flag fly, in the vein that you’ll  learn by just doing it.  I’m not saying that their advice is without merit, but don’t let yourself get bogged down in the detail.

Rules and Realities of Writing

I wanted to write an article on the world of writing the way I see it.  It’s negative in spots and cynical in others, but I hope this doesn’t deter anyone with the dream of accomplishing all that they want to accomplish in the world of writing.  The Leonardo da Vinci philosophy to answering a question was to ask them.  He would compose hundreds of questions to the answer he was trying to achieve, and he found that by asking himself the questions he arrived at better answers.  The key to the questions is to ask them objectively.  You cannot worry about hurting your feelings.  You cannot worry if these questions change the course of your answer one hundred and eight degrees.  The questions must be asked.

The first question that must be asked is how bad do you really want it?  Do you want to be published, do you want to achieve the completion of a story, and what are you willing to do to achieve it?  Are you the type of person who enjoys calling yourself a writer, are you someone who enjoys having another call you a writer, or are you someone who writes?

The publishing industry, or as I call them the rejection industry, will pound you.  They haven’t been mean to me, and I don’t think they’ll be mean to you, but what you’re trying to sell them just doesn’t sound like something you can sell.  ‘What the hell do you want?’ you will ask them in your head.  “And why are you hitting me?” your keyboard, wall and head will ask in unison as you work your way through the latest Writer’s Digest list of publishers that are looking for you.

Do you have the time?  Most people will tell you either I used to love writing, or I used to be a writer, but I don’t have the time anymore.  Do you remember the excuse T-shirts of the 90’s that would say: “Why I suck at bowling, why I can’t fish, or the reasons I’m bad at golf.”  I would say that one out of four people I run across on a daily basis tell me that they are a writer, used to be a writer, or wish they could be a writer.  If writers could laugh at themselves in the same manner as the golfing and bowling flunkies, the industry could make millions with ‘excuses why I am not a writer’ T-shirts.

When I was a young ‘un trying to find my way through teen trauma, I found music.  I listened to any piece of music I could find from my Mom’s Ray Coniff/Burt Bacharach/Glenn Campbell record collection to my Kiss/Van Halen/Rod Stewart cassette tape collection.  After awhile, music wasn’t cutting it anymore.  I still listened to music as often as I could in a day, but something was missing in my life.  In my twenties, I took a creative writing course in college, and I handed in some stuff that I thought was the greatest material written since Hemingway pulled the trigger.  It was pretty awful stuff, but the writing teacher said I showed some promise in paragraphs two and twelve.  I realized (thought) I had a gift.  I’ve always had a gift for observation and storytelling (lying), but I never saw an avenue for it, until that teacher told me I had some promise.  Ever since that day, I have been pecking away at various keyboards trying to make the dream come alive.

“I am not adept at punctuation and/or grammar in general.”  A caller to a radio show once informed Clive Barker.  She said that she enjoyed writing, but it was the mechanics of writing that prevented her from delving into it whole hog.  “Are you a proficient story teller?” Clive asked her.  “Do you enjoy telling stories, and do you entertain your friends with your tales?”  The woman said yes to all of the above.  “Well, you can learn the mechanics, and I encourage you to do so, but you cannot learn story telling.  The ability to tell a story is, largely, a gift.  Either you have it or you don’t.”

The next important question is: ‘Do you have an idea?’ Another important question is: ‘Is it a good idea.’  It’s not as easy as it seems, and some writers get so bogged down in the arena of idea that they end up not writing anything.  It may be a mistake for some, because they may not be writers, but others should just write.  One of the dumbest questions asked of established writers is: ‘where do your ideas come from?’  Very rarely do you hear a straight forward answer to this question.  I don’t know what the interviewer expects, but the answer is usually vague.  In my opinion, this is because an idea is borne from the activity of writing.  If you find yourself writing for hours on end day after day, you’ll find little ideas gestate into bigger ideas, and bigger ideas turn into large ideas.  To paraphrase Hemingway: “Your mind is like a muscle, and you have to work it out every day if you ever hope to hone it.”  There comes a point where you begin using that muscle so often that a little idea peaks out from beneath the covers and cries for you to hold her for a second.  It’s your job to pet her when she cries and scold her when she acts up.  She’s your baby, and you have to rear her to fruition.  The best way to see her reach adulthood is to be there for her.

I’ve heard people talk about writer’s block.  I don’t believe in writer’s block.  I think people who have writer’s block expect to write Crime and Punishment or War and Peace, and they’re frustrated when their story turns out to be ‘My day at the Supermarket.’   Writers write.  To my mind, if I want to be a writer, I will write anything and everything.  I will write something if it’s great, and I will write something if it sucks, and they do suck.  But, as Charlie Sheen once said, “You have to create a lot of manure to fertilize that one flower.”

When that eventual idea peaks it’s little head out at you, in the midst of writing, it may be important to trim the fat that got you there.   I believe it was Anton Chekov who said that every writer should take the first three pages of their manuscript and chuck them.  He said that it takes a writer about that long to get into a proper flow.  In the first few pages, you are laying the foundation for your eventual story, but it should only be a foundation for you to begin your work.  You shouldn’t burden the reader with this unnecessary fluff that helped you get over the hurdle of a beginning.

Are you Kerouac or Joyce?  These two authors insisted on a form of writing called stream of consciousness writing.  History has treated both of these authors with kindness, but they are the exceptions to the rule.  For the rest of us, a golden rule applies: Your words are not golden.  Delete the dumb words.  Take out the sentences and paragraphs that make no sense, or they bore the reader.  To paraphrase Andre Agassi: ‘Pace is everything’.

If in your quest to completion, you are able to go back and admit to yourself that you are not a man of golden words, then you will find yourself nearing the golden chalice.  If you can delete large chunks of your work, then you may be momentarily defeating the complimentary Golem that has been chasing you thus far.  I can’t delete large chunks.  I put too much work into it to just throw them away, but I have created an Extras file that I dump this material in.   Nothing is worse to a reader than when a narrator leads you to girl falling off the cliff, and then the narrator decides to put in three pages of fluff on his idea of the meaning of life.  Teasing is all right, but do not forget to make the minutiae in the middle interesting.  Remember pace is everything.  If your pace if purposefully plodding, then go with plodding, but remember the risk you’re running.

What is the goal?  If you want to enter the craft of writing to be a star that is chased by paparazzi, then you may want to re-think your plans.  John Irving called writing the loneliest profession of all.  He said the writer is usually locked in a room pounding out ideas with no one to talk to about it.  This is John Irving, one of the few men that could be called a literary rock star to my mind, and he said this a couple years ago.  He said this about eight to nine books into his profession.  Forget the paparazzi, forget even being noticed on the streets, and you can probably forget about readings that are specifically directed to you and your book(s).  This happens to a very few in the profession.  If you are one of the lucky ones, in this regard, I dare say that it won’t be because you were driven to stardom.  I think the Irvings and the Koontzs and the Kings were driven by one thing early on: the desire to tell a great story.

I think the desire to be a best seller is also not a good reason to get into the profession.  I think that’s a tad bit lofty.  I think that’s too far in the future.  That’s something that you can’t control.  Plus, this mentality may lead you to change chapter two and four, because you don’t think the people will like it.  You have to trust your judgment and entertain yourself.  If you’re not entertaining yourself, chances are no one else will be entertained either.

On that note, another question should be asked: ‘Do you have a specific take on life?’   A grade school teacher once informed me that an opinion piece I wrote was: “Too mealy mouthed.”  I told her I had no idea what that meant.  She said: “If you’re going to be wrong, be wrong with conviction.”  In writing a novel, one cannot put their finger to the wind on every plot variable, every twist, every line and piece of punctuation.  The writer needs to take charge of their novel and let their experiences dictate that which they enter into it.  How many people could’ve written Old Man and the Sea?  How many people could’ve written it the way it was written?  Hemingway’s experiences entered into it.  You are who you are based on your experiences.  You shouldn’t be afraid to let this enter into your fiction.  Only you can write this particular novel.

As a counter point to that point, can you distance yourself in the creation of a character?  Our family and friends all believe that they live the most fascinating lives on the planet.  How many times do they tell us that we should write a book about them?  In truth, their lives may not even be fascinating to us, but your life is probably not fascinating to us either.  This is where the stew comes into place.  Your job as a writer is to take your experiences and combine them with fascinating stories.  Does this mean that you embellish on your life?  Well, some of the best writers used to be some of the best liars in life.  They just learned to channel their embellishments to something productive.  Does this mean that your character has to do exactly what you would do in a given situation?  Yes and no.  You don’t want to stray too far from the core of who you are, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have your character do something that fascinates you.  Larry David, of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fame, states that the show Curb Your Enthusiasm is based upon experiences that have occurred in his life, except that Larry has the character on the show say things that he wishes he had said in that particular situation in his life.  In other words, you should write characters that occasionally do the things that tick you off the most.  You should have your characters do things that are immoral and spiteful.  At times, you should even have your main character do such things.  Some people avoid having their characters do stupid things.  Most men fear having female characters do stupid things, because females get offended easily when men stereotype them a certain way, but women do stupid things everyone does.  Most authors stridently avoid having their characters do stupid things, because these are images we have of heroes in one way or another.  If male characters have men do stupid things, it’s usually to promote the intelligence of the female counterpart, or it’s done to produce an effect that the character will eventually avenge.  I say that you should allow your characters to do stupid things because it’s funny, it adds definition, and it allows the reader to better identify with the character.

There are definitely guidelines, and there is a right way to do things and a wrong way of doing things, but the name of the game of fiction is that there are no rules.  Do what you do.  Let your freak flag fly.  Non-writers get bogged down in the detail.  They buy all the magazines on the best way to lead to conflict, the best way to get out of that conflict, the best way to provide character to your character, the best way to start, and the ten best ways to conclude a best-selling novel.  Take a look at some of the names of the people who have written these pieces, they know as little about writing a best-seller as you do, but more importantly they don’t know how to write your novel.  Some of the writers do have best-sellers on their resumes, but do they have a novel similar to yours?  Do they have the novel that you wish you would’ve written?  If that’s the case, follow their template.  I don’t know how far it will get you, but if you have confidence in the fact that they can lead you to the Promised Land better than your own intuition, then by all means fork over your seven dollars.  My point is this is your game.  This is going to be your book, and wouldn’t you rather succeed on your own?  I’m not saying that their advice is without merit, but don’t let yourself get bogged down in the detail.

The final question that must be asked is: ‘Should you just give up?’  This may seem antithetical to everything I’ve just written, but it is a vital component to writing fiction.  It involves the story that is going nowhere.  I don’t know how many stories you have going at once, or if you only have one, but there comes a crossroads in every story’s life.  You were inspired up until you reached point F of the process.  Now you’re stuck.  You can’t think of what to do at this point.  The non-writer will give up the craft entirely at this point, and maybe he should.  Maybe it’s too hard for him, or maybe he just wasn’t meant to be a writer in the first place.  It’s a very important crossroads for you.  If you have the temerity to push ahead, there are a few things that I’ve done to keep ‘it’ all shiny and honed.  First, you can just force your character through the keyhole, and see what happens.  This has never worked for me.  It has left me more muddled than I was when I hit the crossroads in the first place.  You can go back and edit what you’ve already done.  Editing helps you retrace the steps that led you to the crossroads, and it can help you remember all the characteristics of your story that led you to the crossroads.  On a number of occasions, I’ve added a tweak here, deleted an adjustment there, or scrapped the story entirely.  Again, it’s important when to know when to cut your losses.  Are you going to give up writing altogether, or is it just this particular story that isn’t going the places that you hoped it would?  It’s decision time for you and your story and your career.  The other thing you can do, if you’ve decided to keep writing, is paint fruit and flowers.  It used to drive me nuts when I would go through the catalogues of the famous painters and see all these beautiful works of art broken up by paintings of fruit and flowers.  It’s my contention that these artists couldn’t think of anything to paint for stretches of time, so they painted fruit and flowers.  They did this, I believe, to keep their skills fresh for a time when inspiration struck them.  You need to find your fruit and flowers.  Is it other meaningless stories, political blogs, blogging in general, or book and album reviews?  What is it you might enjoy writing about while that story remains at a crossroads?  Whatever it is, write it and keep the muscle honed.