You can’t have it both ways (some words on the current state of the NFL)

Posted on September 24, 2014

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When I played college football a teammate of mine had already suffered six or seven concussions. He was a month before turning 18 when I saw him suffer his 7th or 8th. (He couldn’t remember how many he’d had.)

We were in the middle of training camp, exhausted, and this guy didn’t feel like taking on yet another fullback in hitting drills. He went in half-assed, turned to the side rather than really taking the guy on, and boom, got cracked right in the temple.

He immediately threw his helmet off, yelled he couldn’t see…then got screamed at by our position coach for not having good technique. I’d say he was back at practice within a few days.

Mid-season rolls around and this guy goes to the training room.

Crazy Player “So, um, I’ve been having memory issues.”

Athletic trainer “What do you mean?”

Crazy Player “I’ve been forgetting where my classes are and weird things like that.”

Trainer “How long has this been going on?”

Crazy Player “I don’t know, like since [names a certain team we played against]”

Trainer “Wait, what? That was a month ago!”

Crazy player gets a CT scan. Turns out he had a bruise on his brain. This guy was playing football with a bruise on his brain, likely since training camp, which was about two months prior at this point. I think he missed one, maybe two games after this.

While I was watching a fellow freshman go through the we-care-about-concussions-but-not-really protocol of the NCAA -which is not better today- I saw a senior player do some, shall we call it memorable, things as well. While the freshman was Crazy Player, the senior was Outrageous Fucking Lunatic Player (OFLP).

This guy played perhaps the most physical position on the field, particularly in the scheme we ran. In four years, I don’t think he missed a single practice. I witnessed him limp through multiple practices in training camp, which was inane because this guy was in no danger of losing his position. He could have missed a month and been fine.

One practice we were in the middle of a scrimmage. A big play happened and OFLP was on the other side of the field. He was irate as he was limping back to the huddle. He paused in the middle of running, pointed down at his ankle, and goes,

“Fuck you ankle! You harden the fuck up right now! You goddamn pussy! LET’S FUCKING GO!”

To be clear, this guy cursed out his own ankle, for being soft.

I will never forget this, because this player was part of the impetus for me to stop playing football. Mid-season we were struggling a bit in some way that I forget. During our position meeting I witnessed this guy and another, in the utmost serious way, discuss how one of the reasons they play football is because they want to take someone’s soul. (That someone being who they’re playing against.)

I remember sitting in that meeting thinking to myself, “Uhh, does this sound, I don’t know, ridiculous to anyone else?” It was then I started to realize football was perhaps no longer for me.

The NFL

I spent a lot of years playing football, enraptured by it, and got to a decently high level of play. The recent outrage about the league is pointless to me in certain ways.

The whole Roger Goodell / Ray Rice “scandal” has particularly been odd. This is some form of what I’ve heard repeatedly:

“There are only two possibilities. Either Roger Goodell saw the tape and tried to hide it, or Roger Goodell didn’t bother to perform a thorough investigation. The NFL is either lying or they are incompetent.”

And most don’t believe the NFL is incompetent. (It’s hard to get to a position of say, NFL commissioner, or a NFL owner, and be incompetent.) So, many are going with Goodell and the NFL are liars.

There is a third option to all this though. Based on my football background and what I saw at an albeit small division I school, the third option is the answer to not only what’s gone on with Ray Rice, but what’s happened with everything in recent NFL memory. (This is highly applicable to the NCAA too.)

The NFL does not care.

They don’t care about concussions, they don’t care about domestic violence, they don’t care about child abuse, drug use, drug abuse, drunk driving, having bounties on other players, their players making bomb threats at airports, their players killing their girlfriends and themselves, their players being gang members, them being mentally ruined, financially ruined, they don’t care about any of this. They care about one thing: Making money.

The only reason anything has happened with Adrian Peterson or Ray Rice is because sponsors are starting to speak up. Adrian Peterson was deactivated, yet nearly immediately reinstated, after it’s found his four year old son was beaten to the point he had defensive wounds on his hands, and was quoted as saying he was afraid his professional football playing father was going to punch him in the face. Adrian was reinstated TWO DAYS after being deactivated. TWO DAYS after this is all found out.

Basically, he suffered a game suspension, in which Minnesota lost that game. Do you think anyone in Minnesota’s front office cares about this from a moral perspective? All they care about is they have a better chance of winning when their all-pro running back is on the field. You win, you make more money.

A day after reinstatement, a sponsor pulls out and guess what? Adrian Peterson is suddenly not allowed to play again. Suddenly the fact Adrian gives the Vikings a better chance to win isn’t as financially meaningful as losing sponsorship. (Which makes sense as many crappy NFL teams still make plenty of money.) Nothing changed in his child abuse case. No new information came out. Only monetary circumstances changed.

The Minnesota Vikings are not clueless. They know exactly what they’re doing. They handled this exactly as you would expect…when you think of it from a business perspective. Reminder: The Minnesota Vikings are a business.

Everyone seems upset -> let’s deactivate Peterson -> Ok, things have calmed down a bit, let’s reinstatement him and see what happens. We do have a better chance of winning with him on the field -> Oh shit, people actually really care about this; we lost a sponsor. Let’s keep him off the field then.

“How could the NFL not care? What a terrible institution! How could they handle this so poorly? They should have suspended these players immediately!”

Which brings us to the consumers of the NFL. I love how suddenly the NFL is a moral arbiter. In a sport where the point of the game is 1) Score 2) Hit people as hard as you possibly can, over and over again, you expect these individuals to be great people?

They play a game in which they are trying to nearly kill one another. This is not figurative speech. When you play football, you are trying to hit someone as hard as you possibly can. You are trying to inflict as much pain as you possibly can on another human being. You are trying to hurt someone as much as possible without actually killing or permanently disabling the person. Beyond that though, as the Saints Bounty Scandal illustrated, you get bonus points -and money- the more you physically endanger another person.

And they do this because we watch them with vigor. I mean, who do you think is volunteering to play this game? It’s nearly a prerequisite to have a screw or two, or fifteen, loose in order to want to do what this game does to your body. The reason many play is because of what it does to the body.

“[Darnell] Dockett does many things on game day, but one thing he does not do is play. He’s not in it for the joy. He’s in it for the violence.

…he repeated the story about finding his dead mother, well past the point where it bored him. Yes, he stared at her for five minutes. Yes, he almost passed out. Yes, he carries all that into opposing backfields with him each weekend…

He never sought counseling after finding her body. He had football instead. He seethes silently before games as he thinks about growing up without her, then scans the crowd during pregame introductions looking for parents of other players, using jealousy to push his rage to just the right decibel level.

“I play angry,” he says. “After a game, I want the guys I played against to question whether they still want to play football. I don’t want stats or numbers. I want bruises. I don’t mind people saying, ‘Dockett didn’t even make a tackle, but he put three or four knots on my head.’ There’s an enjoyment to hitting someone and knowing it is legal, that the police aren’t coming. You ever watch the guys inside? Screaming, fighting, scratching, bleeding, choking? Now, that’s the jungle.”

The NFL does not exist without viewers. And from a viewing perspective, none of us this is going to stop people from watching. Because these crazy assholes are exactly what we want to be watching on Sundays. We encourage them to be this way. I don’t want some good samaritan out there on Sundays. I want some fucking maniac who doesn’t care if he breaks in half or dies all in the name of chasing a ball around a field.

Some guy like Darnell Dockett, an all-pro veteran lineman, who thinks about finding his dead, murdered mother at age 13 -a mother who used to beat him with an electrical cord- who wants to take out this rage on another person every week.

Do you know who the best players I ever saw in person were? The players who made it further than anyone else? The two I mentioned in the beginning. Crazy Player was the player of the year multiple times in our conference, and barring his height, he probably would have made a NFL team at least once.

Outrageous Fucking Lunatic Player not only made a NFL team, the guy has been in the NFL for eight seasons.

These are guys that, on the NFL level, are actually average. The guys who are even a level above them? Better than them? What do you think they are? Suddenly calm? No, many of them are even crazier. They have even less regard for not only their own body, but for other humans.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t want NFL players to have complete disregard for their body, to not worry about anything beyond next week, to try to take someone’s soul while playing, AND have them be fantastic people off the field. If anything, the better the player, on average, the crazier a person they probably are off the field. The more likely they are to be taking drugs, to be binge drinkers, to have emotional control issues, violence issues. Football draws certain personalities to it. It also appeases us humans’ darker side.

(One of the guys I reference was, to be nice, not the best guy off the field. The other guy I didn’t know well enough, but he actually seemed like a beloved teammate by the older guys. Not everyone sucks off the field, but there should be no surprise when so many of them do.)

If you want to be upset with someone, make it places like Atlantic City law enforcement. Because who cares if a lunatic is allowed to play a lunatic sport; what about how Ray Rice received a punishment less than 1% of all similar offenders get? Our judicial system inflicted a punishment essentially amounting to nothing, but oh my god the NFL only suspended him two games.

Yet I don’t see anyone protesting in A.C. Never mind that, if you care so much about domestic violence, and the handling of it, why are you still going to and watching the games? As far as I could tell, Baltimore’s stadium was sold out against Pittsburgh, their first home game after all this happened. In fact, ratings were up! You don’t care = NFL doesn’t care.

For goodness’ sake, Baltimore just erected a statue of a guy convicted of obstruction of justice in a murder case. (A guy who almost assuredly got off lucky in that circumstance.) Screw punching someone in the face, what about KILLING A PERSON? This same person professed on ESPN this past weekend, when talking about Ray Rice, “There are some things you can cover up, and some things you can’t.” Oh, by the way, you know where my crazy teammate got that whole soul taking thing from? Ray Lewis.

“But anyone can say that yelling won’t help, things won’t change, but my point is very different: you are yelling so that things don’t change.

Frantic hyperactivity to mask impotence, frantic hyperactivity to signal to some omnipotent entity that you are trying to make things right– it’s the description for what’s happening now and the definition of obsessional neurosis. That could be coincidence, I guess.”

(From The Last Psychiatrist)

“The owners should fire Roger Goodell after this past week. It was a PR disaster.” Sure, all he did was make the owners more money than he did the year before. Pretty sure that’s his job description. The NFL is smarter than people realize. Their apathy is not incompetence; it’s not insolence. It is, as more people keep watching, good business. [1]

Enjoy this Sunday. Despite all the yelling, the NFL knows we’ll be watching.

[1] I do expect, in my lifetime, the NFL to lose significant viewership at some point. My belief is eventually, enough mother’s are going to go, “No, son, you are not playing football. But you can play X, Y, or Z.” (This is soccer’s chance to become popular in America.) Whether it’s concussion stories, more science, the fact football is so widespread now; in a myriad of ways parents are going to gain a better appreciation of how violent the sport is, and after a certain point of recognition, parents don’t put their children regularly into a violent situation.

By the way, this has already started happening.

And when enough young boys stop playing, that’s when viewership starts to decline. That it’s not current NFL viewers who are going go, “The NFL is such a terrible organization. I won’t support them.” But more people will slowly lose interest and place it elsewhere, because their children will be playing other sports. Then this trickles up.

Part of this is due to the fact humans have become less violent as we’ve been around longer. There seems to be a natural progression of us moving further and further away from violent activity. That said, I do expect MMA and fighting to have no problems moving forward. That world is a bit different though. Often, people don’t start those sports until their well into being an adult. You don’t start playing football at 23 though.

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Posted in: Miscellaneous, Sports