The NFL has been the biggest and most popular sports league in America throughout the past 20 years. Every Sunday, millions of people across North and Central America dedicate their entire Sundays and Monday evenings to watching NFL teams. People the world over love their teams and do everything from bet on the games to build fantasy teams. Football really has become an obsession unlike ever before, and the NFL hopes that continues.

But no league seems to be embroiled in controversy like the NFL. There are countless issues around commissioner Roger Goodell with the owners and even some of the players. There are fans boycotting the game now for a wide variety of reasons, from ticket prices, to problems with streaming services, all the way to social issues in America. The league is becoming a game of politics, and is seeing players and owners taking Goodell to court on an annual basis. In short: the league is becoming the site of multiple disasters. This is creating a dark cloud over America’s favourite game.

Even when you try to only think of good things about the league, it’s hard to ignore some of the many controversies and problems throughout its history. There are a number of blemishes on the NFL that they would love you to forget, but these 15 secrets aren’t going away any time soon, and the league would rather people didn’t talk about them too much.

15. It’s All About The Owners

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Though Goodell and all 32 owners try to thank the fans as much as possible, the NFL never looks out for the best interest in fans. Okay, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank gets a pass for setting extremely cheap food prices in their new stadium. But as for many of the other owners? It’s all about them. Dean Spanos wants you to think he tried his best to keep the Chargers in San Diego. Raiders owner Mark Davis is moving the team to Las Vegas, even though the franchise has one of the most passionate and rowdy fanbases in sports.

No matter what the league and owners try telling you, it’s all about them. They look to make the most money and simply don’t look out for the best interest of the fans. It’s a secret the NFL tries hiding, but isn’t working here, especially with JErry Jones threatening to sue Goodell over the handling of Ezekiel Elliott.

14. Goodell Mishandles The Disciplinary Role

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Roger Goodell has all the power when it comes to disciplinary action. He can decide how long a player is out of the league for. All NFL players hate it, and stars like Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Richard Sherman will tell you any day just how awful it is. Goodell only handed Ray Rice a two-game suspension despite video surveillance catching the man brutally attacking his fiance then dragging her body across the ground. Yet Brady got a four-game suspension for “possibly” orchestrating a plan to mildly deflate footballs?

Josh Gordon hasn’t played since 2014 because of nothing more than smoking (albeit it a banned substance). Greg Hardy actually got his suspension reduced when photos were released of the brutal attack he left on his girlfriend. Goodell basically doesn’t know how to handle discipline. A not-so-severe crime means a huge punishment. A horrendous crime results in a very small suspension. It’s embarrassing for the league.

13. Bountygate

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2012 NFL offseason, an investigation found that the New Orleans Saints were literally paying their players bonuses (or bounties) to try and intentionally injure other players. The incident was dubbed as “Bountygate,” and left a blemish on both the league and franchise. When all was told, head coach Sean Payton received a suspension for the entire 2012 season. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, assistant coach Joe Vitt and GM Mickey Loomis all got lengthy suspensions as well.

Star linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended, the team lost two draft picks and the team was slapped with a $500,000 fine. Though commissioner Roger Goodell tried his best to punish the organization, the slimy scheme will not be forgotten any time soon — as much as the league wants us to forget about it.

12. Ratings Are Actually Trending Down

via ftw.usatoday.com

Throughout the 2016 and 2017 NFL seasons (so far), the league has seen a noticeable decline in ratings. The league may try to deny this and brush the truth aside, but there are a handful of reasons to believe why ratings are down.

For one, fans are actually starting to boycott due to the national anthem protests that Colin Kaepernick began. Some fans support the players kneeling, and believe the owners are making too big of a problem out of it. Other fans just refuse to support the league, believing it’s wrong for players to be kneeling. Also, the damning CTE studies and tests have turned off many fans (more on this later). The product itself seems to get worse every year, with only a handful of championship contenders each season. Ratings continue to stagger, and the NFL becoming a game of politics isn’t going to help that.

11. Roger Goodell Allegedly Covered Up Spygate

Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2007 season, the Patriots were caught on tape (ironically) illegally videotaping the New York Jets signals from the sidelines. The team was docked a first round pick and $500,000, but head coach Bill Belichick avoided a suspension. This was an awful piece of news for both the NFL and the Patriots. It instantly left blemishes on the team’s Super Bowl 36, 38 and 39 victories. What’s worse, Goodell smashed the Spygate video tapes and seemingly refused to let the world know what he found on them.

The conspiracy is that Goodell wouldn’t let the world know about how much the golden franchise cheated. So he had to cover it up and brush it off as a less sinister incident than it truly was. At least, that’s what many think.

10. Donald Trump’s Involvement

via huffingtonpost.ca

United States President Donald Trump has had his fair share of involvement and beef with the NFL. In 1983, Trump bought the New Jersey Americans USFL team. However, the league only lasted three years and later successfully sued the NFL for “antitrust.” But Trump’s vendetta against the league doesn’t stop there. Trump (who’s close friends with Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady) has consistently voiced his displeasure for the commissioner. Trump has referred to Goodell as “stupid” and has called out the league for allowing player protests. Trump has also said that players should be “fired” if they kneel during the anthem. Though Trump has been one to make enemies with just about everybody, it’s not a good sign for the NFL when the president seems to be totally against it. A large number of his constituents may listen to him and boycott the league, which would hurt revenue.

9. Stains On Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl Titles

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

John Elway led the Denver Broncos to Super Bowl 31 and 32 championships, in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, respectively. However, many overlook the fact that the Broncos first two Super Bowls come with stains. From 1996 to 98, the Broncos broke league salary cap rules. This led to nearly $1 million in fines for the 2001 season, plus the loss of a 2002 draft pick. In 2004, the Broncos were fined once again for $950,000 and lost another draft choice. Considering the rule-breaking happened during a pair of championship seasons, the Broncos are among the few NFL teams to have stains on their championships. Many label the New England Patriots as the cheating franchise of the NFL. It’s not a good image for the league when two teams (who won multiple titles), broke league rules to do so.

8. Fans Being Cheated In Super Bowl 45

via jsonline.com

Super Bowl 45 featured two iconic franchises — the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers. It took place in the giant and fancy Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Attendance was reported to be 103,219. However, about 400 ticket buyers didn’t get their money’s worth on the big night. It was later reported that some stadium sections weren’t ready, so approximately 850 fans were moved to other seats. However, about 400 fans were denied their seats, and didn’t get to watch Aaron Rodgers take down Ben Roethlisberger in a thrilling shootout.

Though fans were given refunds for their tickets, it was still an embarrassing screw-up on the NFL’s end. How can sections not be ready for a Super Bowl? You know hundreds of thousands of people are going to be there. Hundreds of fans had the once in a lifetime memory ruined, all because of poor preparation. Not fair.

7. The Real Truth About Spygate

via sports-law.blogspot.ca

Going back to Spygate… You know how the league only wants you to believe the Patriots were guilty in that game against the Jets? Well, ESPN.com published Spygate to Deflategate: Inside what split the NFL and Patriots apart, and unveiled a ton of information that makes the incident look really bad on the Patriots and the NFL.

The long and short of it is this: A ton of former Patriots players, coaches and other employees claimed that the team was “spygating” for 40 games. This involved stealing other teams’ play-calling sheets and illegally videotaping other team’s games and practices.

These games included playoff matches and their Super Bowl victories over the St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers. But as we said earlier, Goodell allegedly smashed the tapes and covered it up. Again, a dirty secret the NFL doesn’t want you to know.

6. DeflateGate Was Goodell’s Way Of Making Up For Mistake

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports/Files

So why did Tom Brady receive a four-game suspension, with the Patriots losing two draft picks and being fined $1 million? That’s a pretty harsh punishment for the “Deflategate” scandal, considering there wasn’t enough hard evidence to tie Brady, Belichick and the front office to the crime. Well, some owners alleged that Goodell gave the Patriots a harsher penalty to “make up” for his mistake in letting the team off easy after the Spygate scandal.

We can all agree that the Spygate scandal seems far more sinister and displayed a bigger form of cheating than a quarterback “probably” being “aware” of the team intentionally (slightly) deflating footballs. But Goodell seemingly tried covering up Spygate but punished the team hard for Deflategate. It doesn’t make much sense, but it was allegedly his “make up call.”

5. NFL’s “Prior Knowledge” Of The Ray Rice Incident

via npr.org

The video of Ray beating and dragging his fiancee wasn’t released until Sept. 2014, by TMZ. It was then where Goodell and the NFL chose to suspend Rice indefinitely. At the time, it appeared as though the NFL had just seen the video, and chose to act quickly.

However, an anonymous law enforcement official claimed that he had actually sent the league the video of the Rice incident five months before it was released. Of course, Goodell brushed it aside and said they worked to find the video from the get-go, but didn’t get it until September. This only added to even more problems for Goodell and the front office. Did the NFL truly know about the Rice incident but choose to let him off easy and pretend they saw no video footage for five months? We’ll never know.

4. CTE Turns NFL Players Into Criminals

via sportingexaminer.com

Many don’t know what turned beloved NFL legend and actor O.J. Simpson into an alleged killer and later a convicted kidnapper/robber. But one doctor was willing to bet his medical licence on Simpson suffering from CTE, which would explain why The Juice ran into off-the-field troubles long after his NFL career.

Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez – who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison – suffered from severe CTE. That would likely explain why he threw away his fame and fortune to become a heinous killer. Former Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher was also found to have CTE – which could explain why he took his girlfriend’s life before taking his own at the team’s training facility. This is a tragic and dark secret, but the NFL always seems to work on an excuse in trying to pretend CTE isn’t as severe as some of these former players have shown.

3. 1925 NFL Championship Game

via affotd.com

The Chicago Cardinals were awarded the league championship in 1925. In those days, the NFL Champion was the team with the best record in the regular season, as there was no playoff format. The Cardinals finished the season with an 11-2-1 record, but many believe the 10-2 Pottsville Maroons were more deserving of the league title. However, the Maroons broke league rules by participating in an exhibition game against Notre Dame in Philadelphia. They also violated the territorial boundaries of another team, the Frankford Yellow Jackets.

As such, the Maroons weren’t eligible to win the title, and the Cardinals were crowned the 1925 NFL Champions. Because it happened nearly a century ago, it’s an NFL secret that lives on in history – though many won’t forget about it any time soon.

2. Average Lifespan Of NFL Players

via nydailynews.com

There is great debate among this, but it’s estimated that the average NFL player will only live between 53 and 59. For what it’s worth, the life expectancy for the average American male is 76.5. Obviously, concussions and CTE play a big role in the shockingly short average lifespan for NFL players. But a number of these players also develop problems after retirement, becoming bankrupt while some of them develop addictions. The NFL simply doesn’t have a plan in place to prevent injuries while also ensuring their former players are taken care of health-wise.

A number of NFL players have retired at young ages to ensure their long-term health, including Jake Locker and Chris Borland. Stats have shown that the number of youth football participation has dropped considerably in the United States. But the NFL doesn’t want you thinking this. They want you to play for them, without any regard for your future health concerns.

1. Kaepernick Collusion By NFL Owners

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This case is still in its infancy, but is still no doubt very troubling for the NFL. While the case is still being built, former San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick has filed a grievance claiming that the NFL owners have colluded to keep him out of the league. These allegations are of course driven by the fact that Kaepernick is one of the most outspoken players on social issues in the league, and his stance on taking a knee during the U.S. National Anthem has created division and debate among fans, coaches, players and even team owners. The basis for the claim is that owners, who allegedly believe all the attention Kaepernick gets is detrimental to league revenue, want him to stay out of the league to protect their bottom line.

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