Hall of Fame Game Failure Reveals Depth of NFL's Incompetence and Greed

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterAugust 8, 2016

Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker, rear, inspects the conditions at midfield of Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium after an NFL preseason football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts was canceled due to the unsafe  state of the field Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016, in Canton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

It's a question everyone in sports has been asking: How did a multibillion-dollar league allow this to happen? How does the NFL allow its Hall of Fame field to resemble the Martian landscape?

How was this allowed by a league that fines players for the wrong socks? Or fines players for wearing logos on their headphones. Or the wrong-color wristbands. Or for wearing a bandanna. Or for not wearing the proper-color shoes. Or for honoring your dead father.

The NFL pays attention to those kinds of details. When it wants, the NFL sees everything, like, say, the PSI pressure in a damn football.

So how did this happen? I hate to say this, and I do not say it casually or with snark, but it's true: This incident is the latest example of how the league just isn't well-run right now.

Just because the NFL is good at making gobs of money doesn't mean it's been operating smartly. The NFL focuses on the wrong things and doesn't seem to care about the important ones. Like the condition of a playing field for one of its premier games that helps to honor its greatest players.

That's the larger message to take away from Fieldgate (sorry). It's difficult to trust the NFL now with almost any decision, big or small. Many, not all, of its decisions are the wrong ones. It's harsh, but it's true.

You don't see the NBA running its league like it's a Single-A affiliate in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Sheboygan is cool and all, but this is the N...F...Freaking...L. It's supposed to be the best of the best.

And please do not tell me that the Hall of Fame runs the game and not the NFL. If you believe that, you also believe the pyramids are landing spots for alien ships. Well, actually, that's a bad example, because that's true. But the NFL and Hall of Fame are symbiotic entities. One does not exhale without the blessing of the other. It has been this way for decades. It will be this way as long as both entities exist.

It can also be accurate that this was naked incompetence by both powers, and there has been lots of naked incompetence in football lately. Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams tweeted that in last year's Hall of Fame Game, the field was also terrible, but they didn't cancel the game then:

DeAngelo Williams @DeAngeloRB

Hey @NFL it was that terrible last year but u didn't cancel the game we had our kicker tear his acl and a few mcl strains so thanks😏

The NFL and Hall of Fame like to play a game of semantics, saying the Hall of Fame runs the show, but there's a reason for that. If the NFL admits the obvious, that it is partners with the Hall of Fame, it would have to take responsibility for it. It would have to pump a lot more money into it and have more supervision over it.

A team front office executive told me late Sunday night what happened with the Hall of Fame Game is symbolic of what's happening in the NFL now: "The league office will spend extraordinary amounts of time and resources on punishment and enforcement," he said, "and not enough on making sure the everyday functions of the NFL run smoothly."

Go down the list: Deflategate, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Bountygate, the inexcusable handling of the CTE issue—so many inexplicable decisions in recent years. On and on it goes. While the NBA does grand and brilliant things like moving its All-Star Game to protest blatant bigotry, the NFL still can't define what the hell a catch is.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, in a moment of complete honesty and transparency, said in an interview on ESPN that the owners need to get together to make sure "this never happens again." So if the NFL has nothing to do with the Hall of Fame, why do owners need to get together to fix it?

If Irsay truly wants answers, he doesn't have to look far. The Hall of Fame board of trustees is composed of Roger Goodell and approximately one-quarter of the NFL's owners: Dan Snyder, Jerry Jones, Denise York, Jimmy Haslam, Mike Brown, Dan Rooney and George McCaskey. Where were they last year when the field was a joke? Where are they now?

Irsay also mentioned how greatness is about attention to detail. In speaking with other team officials, this was their message as well. They were laughing at what happened. I mean, laughing. Actually chuckling into the phone and LOL'ing on texts.

It's always the small things that bring down empires. In this case, it was the wrong paint that created an unsafe playing surface. Arrogance is a key factor, too, and the NFL is full of that.

A lack of competition—no other sport comes close to the NFL now—has left the league fat and happy. A nimble, smartly run league would have never allowed this to happen. It's not like the NFL didn't have months to prepare for this game.

I try not to go out of my way to rip Goodell or the league. I still believe the league has smart people running it, but it's getting painfully obvious it isn't operating smartly.

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 13:  Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the NFL, stands on the field prior to the game between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field on September 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Im
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Someone's going to get fired over this colossal embarrassment, and it might be the head of the Hall of Fame, David Baker. But it's not his fault. This is an NFL problem. Issues like this have been an NFL problem for years.

Of course, a lot of this is about more than incompetence; it's about good, old-fashioned greed, too. Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star reported that the Hall of Fame kept the doors and concessions open as long as possible before announcing the cancellation of the game so the Hall of Fame could rake in as much cash as possible. It's not enough to be a $12 billion league. Gotta get every last nickel and dime from fans at the game. Mo' Money!

Then there's what Michael Silver of NFL Network reported. Field technicians, in an effort to remedy the issue, tried to apply paint thinner to the field. A Packers employee noticed a warning label that said the chemical in the paint thinner could burn skin. I'm no medical expert, but I gather radioactive, charred skin is not a good thing.

So, back to that question again: How did a multibillion-dollar league allow this to happen?

Because this is today's NFL. The league can't help itself.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.


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