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The NFL Is A Confused Helicopter Parent

The league’s new social media rules reveal a league with misplaced priorities, afraid of itself

Image via CBS

The National Football League’s military-style austerity has seeped into yet another bizarrely unfitting space. Sunday marked the final week in which teams and players can post original video highlights, GIFs, and in-stadium live-streaming content on social media.

According to a league memo obtained by ESPN and Mashable, individual clubs will face a $25,000 fine for an initial violation of the new social media policy, with repeat offenses topping out at $100,000.

Teams will be able to post such items only after the NFL has made the content available on its central server, and the league says it is aiming to provide vastly more content than ever. It’s part of the league’s effort to balance obligations to its advertisers and sponsors while adjusting to the demands of an evolving media and social media landscape.

At least the NFL is trying to address the issue, though the design and implementation of the policy is sloppy at best. Levying those levels of fines for something the teams do to generate and maintain interest in the sport is asinine—consider that fines for posting an illicit GIF will exceed those levied for illegal hits and headhunting.

To recount, through five weeks of the season, we’ve already seen Antonio Brown get fined for twerking and Chandler Jones catch a flag for participating in a “choreographed demonstration,” the league’s apparent parlance for doing the Charleston after recovering a fumble against your former team. Meanwhile, there is still no cogent or even vaguely comprehensible policy against domestic violence, officials are only whispering the letters C, T and E after a recent legal settlement with 200 former players, and no one knows what a catch is—priorities!

Who is breathing a sigh of relief that their favorite receiver has been discouraged from dancing? Who won’t purchase a jersey until that player is declared weed-free by a test that is more than three times stricter than that of the U.S. military and 10 times stricter than the Olympics’ anti-doping agency?

Aside from imposing draconian standards on its players, the league’s misguided attempt to apply arbitrary, air-tight morality to its product is forcing viewers to be fans of fantasy football, NFL RedZone, their home NFL team, and the idea of football in a vacuum—without showing any brand allegiance to the NFL itself. Despite the barrier to fandom being lower than it’s ever been (due, ironically, to social media and digital innovation), saying that you actually like the NFL itself is increasingly uncool.

Take Brown, who has become one of the league’s most magnetic personalities through creative touchdown celebrations, imaginative haircuts, and his adorable public relationship with his son. Unless any non-wide receiver behavior passes the meticulous atomization of NFL branding, the Antonio Brown pushed by NFL channels does nothing but catch footballs and run fast.

I will always be an ardent fan of football. It’s a uniquely poetic game that masterfully balances discipline with somatic theory and patience with tingling anticipation. The NFL either fails to understand that its product is escapist entertainment or thinks that there’s some 21st century sociopolitical tidal wave coming to tear its product down. Both lines of thinking are self defeating.

The walls being built around football get bigger and more fortified by the week. One can only hope that they don’t get too large to obstruct your view of the game.

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