Football fans list a diminishing on-field product, too many commercials and high prices as a few of the factors in the NFL’s ratings decline. (Jack Dempsey/Associated Press)

The NFL has a well-documented problem on its hands — sharply declining TV ratings — and in a fiery piece this week, Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins dug into why more would-be watchers are tuning out. Jenkins’s reasons? To name a few: Penalties and commercials sucking the life out of the game, a violent product coupled with troubling off-field issues and the league grasping “brand” over all else. Writes Jenkins:

Historian Michael Oriard has observed that the great attraction of the league is that it’s “the true reality TV,” in its most vital form. But the NFL is beginning to seem over-managed and over-staged. Constant commercials and interruptions by refs waving their arms do not produce “appointment viewing;” rather, they produce punts, ties and stasis. Look at the standings: A cluster of 18 teams, indistinguishable save for the colors of their shirts, are at .500 or worse and five more at 4-3. In other words, 23 teams are not must-see-TV to anyone but their most fervent fans. The constant advertisements and hail of yellow flags from overly officious officials make a PBS series seem fast-moving, with a clearer story line.

Readers responded in a big way, many with their own thoughtful takes on what has diluted the NFL product, on and off the field and on broadcasts. Here are a few such reader quotes, some of which have been edited for length; user name follows their quote.

On concussions:

For decades, I watched NFL football every Sunday. Lately, whenever I see clips of helmet on helmet hits (like [Chiefs QB] Alex Smith on Sunday), I wonder if I’ll be reading about ex-players suffering from dementia caused by CTE. It makes me less inclined to watch pro football nowadays. — gettingoldhi

I stopped watching (and attending) after the concussion research just kept piling up. I just didn’t feel right being a patron and consumer of such a harmful, physically devastating activity. — Gatopardismo

The sight of 300+ lb guys turning each others’ brains into mashed potatoes is not appealing. — benard11

speaking as a 300+ lb. man who had a small bit, but far too much, of his brain turned to mashed potatoes by playing american football…THANK YOU! american football is a terrible sport for many reasons: brain damage for the players; fan violence; generalized tribalism and bad feelings; war analogue; poisons college. i told my son that he could NEVER play the sport, and i am utterly convinced that it will not even exist in 20 years. good riddance! — dfunkt

After I saw the terrible effects of a concussion on a close friend, I just can’t watch anymore. My friend will never be the same and I know many of these young men will not be either. — mngrrrl

I used to be a casual viewer, but the league’s lack of sincere effort on concussions and spousal abuse have turned me off entirely, and I just don’t watch anymore. — TheNorthWing

On commercials and TV product:

In the old days while watching an NFL game one hoped he would not miss any of the game while running to the bathroom during a commercial break. Now because of endless commercials one can go to the bathroom, walk the dog, make a ham sandwich, get a beer, and still see half the commercials. I am sick of it. The networks paid too much. I refuse to help bail them out. — Chopper

First season since ’98 that I haven’t been watching the games. Why? Because this is how every conversation sounds now: “Hey bud, wanna come over and watch truck and viagra commercials all day? No? Oh yeah no Rocket League sounds way more fun, I’ll come over there.” Maybe the commercials, jet flyovers, fireworks, sunday night songs, coldplay and dancing sharks halftime shows, and whatever other things that have nothing to do with football have gotten more annoying or maybe I’ve just gotten old and curmudgeonly. — Kale Nandula

I started watching in the 1970s. Back then, there was one set of commercials every 10 minutes or so. If the ball changed hands more quickly, you just kept playing. Only a score (with its automatic timeout) would change that. It made for a nicely paced game, especially when teams were exchanging 3-and-outs. — Edward Schaefer

I’ve been watching football for 50 years. In that time, television broadcasts of games have becoming more distracting, more commercial and less about the game and the players. It appears that greed is finally catching up to the the NFL. I am sick of endless pre-game shows and meaningless computer graphics flashing on my screen. I am tired of media personalities and broadcast gimmicks. There are too many jocks and too few sports journalists offering commentary. . . . Meanwhile, as technology creates new viewership habits, the NFL continue to insist on our giving them 3.5 hours of our precious time so that we can watch 2.5 hours of ads. It’s insulting, just as it’s insulting to play games in London. That’s not being fan-friendly. That’s being arrogant. Your game is not that good that fans won’t eventually tune out. — Sterlres

Unusually, I was inside much of the afternoon [Sunday]. I watched Maryland play Michigan in NCAA Mens Soccer. Saw an incredible two overtime victory by Maryland, preserving an undefeated season, superb athletes on both sides of the ball, uninterrupted play and sportsmanship from student athletes. The ball moved the entire game, no commercials except when appropriate and it rocked. From someone who played football all the way up to D-1AA offers and used to make fun of soccer. That’s exactly what the NFL doesn’t offer me. I never even considered turning it on. — Point Break Hotel

Maybe people aren’t sick of football at all. Maybe they are sick of the way it’s covered on TV, with squadrons of talking heads before, during and after, and vapid sideline interviews with annoyed coaches, and up-close-and-personal sanitized “storylines” about the private lives and family tragedies of these titans of the gridiron. Given that every 8 seconds of action is punctuated by a committee meeting (huddle), which gives the over-baked announcers more time to pontificate, there is precious little football to like or dislike. More meat, less garnish — and definitely less talking. That might lure me back (I watch less and less pro football every year, and only if there is nothing better to do (which there usually is). — MJD17

On penalties and the on-field product:

Bobby Knight said that when he played basketball, he thought it was a player’s game. And when he started coaching, he thought it was a coach’s game. The NFL has become a referee’s game. It’s tedious to watch. — LV LaHood

The never-ending flags from over-zealous refs are ruining the enjoyability of football. It seems that every other play has a flag — sometimes several plays in a row. Totally annoying. . . . It’s really up to the owners to insist that the rules be slackened. They’ve gone WAY too far and are ruining the game. — B-flat

The NFL is over-officiating and the refs are still part-time [employees], both are big problems. There is an art to tackling. There is an art to creating a turnover. There is an art to playing tough, smart and responsible at the same time. Yet there is an obsession with this 1970’s “take your head off” on every play approach. I know it’s gladiator sport, but you do not need to punish someone on every play …pick your spots. Most times the defender who is trying to lay the wood ends up hurting himself. If the players would play with fundamentals, if the refs would loosen up on the ticky tack calls, and if the NFL would relieve Goodell of his dictatorship, then we [can] go back to enjoying our game. None of that will happen though. All three groups (Players, Refs, and Goodell) will ruin the game we love. All of them are stubborn and all of them have lost focus. — Jay Hester

I still watch my Ravens, but I hate the chest pounding “watch me now” antics of the players. It seems like every tackle, sack, touchdown, or average play that’s just part of the game the players have to draw attention to themselves. It’s especially ridiculous when their team is losing or has a losing record. It’s a big turnoff for me. — LMF1

I . . . would like to add to the list: The Hypocrisy of trying to legislate safety into an inherently dangerous game by constantly fining defensive players for doing things that are — in the reality of the game — good plays. It is not just unfair to the defense to get the constant penalties for hitting “defenseless receivers” etc. But they are literally taking tens of thousands of dollars from these guys. Most of these players, mind you, have short careers, don’t make millions, and are not particularly qualified to do anything else after football. Certainly not something that will pay them as well. It’s awful. It’s unfair, and personally, I think it’s close enough to criminal that somebody ought to sue Goodell over it. But the bottom line is, I feel very bad for them when it happens and it makes the game way less fun to watch. — Ventura Hwy

The head office needs to clean up its act regarding player, off-field allegations. These incidents are “OFF-FIELD.” Those allegations must go through the regular police investigations and court trials for due process BEFORE any punishment can be considered and administered. Under the US Constitution and State laws, the accused is considered “INNOCENT until PROVEN Guilty” not “guilty until proven innocent.” The Commissioner must WAIT until ALL investigations are completed before he can act. . . . I was also a football official. The number of illegal hits, etc. needs to be flagged more often. This will get the players attention. It will definitely cut down on the fouls when the officials enforce the rules on this issue. — bryantjwilliamsiii

Football could learn a lot from rugby. A more entertaining, and ironically, safer game with lots of rules to protect players. Rugby 7s may be the future. A whole game takes just 14 minutes and there is more action than in an entire NFL-penalty-laden, commercial-packed snoozefest. — SmartAlec

On fantasy sports’ impact on the game:

NFL did the worst thing it could and promoted fantasy football. Now for most people its not about the team at all, its about stats. Why watch the games? Just look at the stats on-line later. — jojoranting

Pro sports are destroying their fan base in the long run with fantasy games. They are getting a short burst of interest but they are growing fans who do not understand how the games are played because they don’t watch the actual games. They watch their fantasy players make individual plays. It’s a dumbing down of the fan base and it will dry up the audiences over time. — apparatchik

I agree that fantasy sports have changed the way younger people follow football. It’s perfect for the me generation. Who cares about the home-town team when one can care about their own team…and they can win money! Definitely seems like a ratings killer to me. — Steve Ethier

On anthem protests:

For me, the San Fran QB [Colin Kaepernick] was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I am [tired] of it. Done. I have not watched any part of a game this season. First time in 35+ years. They are now condoning what this QB is doing and calling it, protecting his 1st amendment right. Fine. But I think they forgot that the lion share of their fan base would see that action as an affront, and would exercise their 1st amendment rights by tuning out. You reap what you sow NFL. — jasonmason

. . . the ruckus over the National Anthem. I am a U.S. Navy veteran thought fought for the person’s right to speak out. But the forum do so is NOT at a football game. A person may have the right to do what some of the players have done, but that does not mean it was right. If a player wants to call a press conference to do so, then fine. That is a forum to do so, BUT a football game during the national anthem IS NOT. — bryantjwilliamsiii

Many of us are not watching NFL because of the protests disrespecting our flag and country. They have every right to protest, but we do not have to watch them do it! — Showme13

A little bit of everything:

Been to an NFL game lately? They’re expensive, slow because they’re bogged down by TV timeouts, filled with angry, obnoxious drunks and then you have to fight traffic home after paying some rich owner $40 to park in his gravel lot. No thanks  — pjbengt

My Army buddies and I used to attend an NFL game every year — at different locations across the U.S. We quit when it became too loud, too angry, too commercialized, and too stupid expensive to make the effort worth it. It’s become a low-class sports event with a high-class price tag. — LarryL1970

The NFL is between a rock and a hard place. The excessive officiating is designed to protect players from suffering long term injury and subjecting the NFL to another class action Concussion type lawsuit. But the officious officiating is damping the thrill of the game. Moreover, time outs are taken on the field for purpose of running a TV commercial and in their zeal to make more money the NFL has increased the number of commercials. When the fan is seeing a diluted product resulting from excessive control of the game by officials and less of the genuine product in the quest for greater revenues the NFL is headed in the way of boxing, which during the 1930’s to the 1970’s enjoyed the kind of following and adulation the NFL has enjoyed over the past 20 to 30 years. — legacy42

It begins and ends with the owners who have a ‘kiss my rear end’ attitude to the fans who pick up the tab for everything NFL (except for stadiums which are paid for by everyone). How should a St Louis fan feel about the NFL when his/her team is uprooted and sent off the greener (money) pastures in LA? How about Oakland fans? People aren’t as dumb as the owners make them out to be: they are voting with their feet and letting owners twist in the wind. NFL tickets are too expensive; cable packages are also expensive as are drinks, parking, snacks and souvenirs: To the owners, fans are simply walking wallets that are emptied with impunity then discarded. Dan Snyder is the typical NFL owner, he is contemptible. The rest of them aren’t any better: classless boors. NFL used to have personalities the fan could identify with: now = nobody. — econundertow

Since the NFL has become politically correct my interest has waned. NFL was much more exciting in the days of [Ken] Stabler and the Raiders, with their rivalry against the [Chiefs]. The Browns-Steelers along with the Skins-Cowboys battles were epic. Too many more to mention. Today’s game has too many flags. stoppages, and a plethora of BS that is too long to be listed. Today, I can barely find interest in my own team. Penalties for even a little celebrating are dopey. No more exciting punt returns and kickoffs. The league has lost its identity, character and most of all fun to watch. The NFL is nothing but a passing league where the receivers have a large advantage over their defenders. As the game became more complicated, penalties of off sides, illegal formations, motion are frustrating. I don’t see it getting any better as long as Roger Goodell is the commissioner. — Indians2016