Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley expressed his displeasure with the scheduling of international regular season NFL games on Thursday, October 19. The Rams will play in London for the second time since relocating to Los Angeles.
When asked about his ability to get into a routine when preparing for an overseas game, Gurley gave a rather blunt response.
“Terrible,” Gurley said. “They need to stop this, all this stuff. This London, this Mexico City stuff, it needs to stop.”
Gurley clarified himself further while talking about the trip to London.
“It’s cool playing over there, don’t get me wrong,” Gurley said. “Just more of the long week, messes up a bunch of people’s schedules. I’m pretty sure y’all [the media] wanna be in y’all bed right now, too. But naw, it’s all good. It’ll be love. The fans over there are great.”
Gurley makes two points here. First, he recognizes how well the London fans have responded to NFL football. However, Gurley also notes how the trip affects him and his teammates. Taking the team out of routines, making the adjust to timezone changes, and spending more time traveling can cause fatigue. Fatigue leads to injuries.
Head coach Sean McVay tried to compensate some by keeping the team in Jacksonville for the week before flying to London. However, the excessive travel does wear on a team, especially in the Rams’ case.
According to NFL senior director of football communications Randall Liu, the Rams will lead the league in travel this season with 32,600 miles logged. That is 1,701 more miles than the next team on the list, the Oakland Raiders. In contrast, the Pittsburgh Steelers will travel only 6,694 miles by the end of the regular season.
The Rams currently share lead the NFC West. They gave up one of their home games to play in London. Now they must play a crucial divisional game against the rival Cardinals one week after already facing the tough Jacksonville Jaguars.
What really makes this situation difficult is that it was Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke’s call to commit to playing in the International Series. Kroenke owns the longtime soccer powerhouse Arsenal and hopes to use his high profile in England to draw international fans for the Rams. It makes economic sense to send his team overseas to play in a state-of-the-art stadium and increase his team’s prestige. However, the team itself is risking its on-field performance as well.
What about the rest of the NFL?
The Rams currently serve as one of the league’s more active teams playing overseas, but they aren’t alone. The NFL will host five international games in 2017, four of which will take place in London. Five teams will give up home games to host in a foreign country. While home teams are only 46-46 entering Week 7, their importance cannot be understated. It’s a chance for players to go home to their families at night. Being home is an opportunity for players to recover from injuries or physical games under their own roofs.
Yes, the NFL must do what it takes to grow its brand, but at what cost? We live in an age where injuries like concussions and torn ACLs can ruin careers and leave permanent damage. At some point, the NFL needs to start considering the overall health of their players. Sending 10 teams out of the country for a football game is too much. The league needs to either put an end to this and refocus on their fanbase at home or consider mass expansion options overseas.
The International Series once served to grow the game. Now it only robs the fans of a home game and puts the players at risk. It’s time for the NFL to make a change with the International Series.