CNS photo/Mike Segar, Reuters

NFL is little more than the National Felons League

By 
  • September 18, 2014

Ten years ago, a friend took his then eight-year-old son to Buffalo to see their favourite football team, the St. Louis Rams, play the Bills. Both father and son are diehard Rams fans and the son wore a Rams jersey to the game. 

For this crime, the little boy was the object of ridicule and verbal abuse in the stands from Buffalo Bills fans. Luckily, he was so young, he didn’t know the meaning of most of the words. 

This story came to mind again amid the recent media hype that had the talking heads on TV proclaiming the “worst week in history for the NFL.” 

First, a video from inside a casino elevator became public showing former Baltimore Raven star running back Ray Rice punching his then fiancee, now wife, in the face so hard he knocked her out cold. We’d already seen a video from outside the elevator that showed Rice dragging her lifeless body out of the elevator. For that, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice a mere two games. The new video — and the rightful public outcry — forced the Ravens to cut Rice and Goodell to suspend him indefinitely from the league. 

A few days later, Minnesota Viking star running back Adrian Peterson was indicted for child abuse after he “disciplined” his son with a stick so hard the four-year-old boy was bleeding. Then a lawsuit was filed by a 27-year-old woman against Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, claiming he sexually assaulted her in 2009. (Jones isn’t the only owner who allegedly behaves like the players. For instance, another owner was convicted this year of drunk driving and fined $500,000. There are other examples.) 

I suppose it doesn’t matter which story brought back the memory of my friend’s eight-year-old son being called such horrible things by NFL fans. The overall culture of this money-making sports and entertainment juggernaut has gone sour. And it makes me wonder if society is partly to blame for this moral decline. 

The NFL has turned into the National Felons League where these gladiators are placed on pedestals and society venerates them and stuffs their pockets and those of their rich owners. Was it any coincidence that during this “worst week in history” the Buffalo Bills franchise was sold for $1.4 billion? 

Dozens and dozens of NFL players have been indicted over the past decade or so and many have been convicted of heinous crimes. 

There have been gun and drug charges and so many domestic-abuse charges that when one player beat up his mother it wasn’t treated as a major national story. When a player killed his girlfriend and then killed himself a couple years ago, we were horrified but we moved on days later. 

Then there is the case of Carolina Panthers star defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted in July of strangling, beating and threatening to kill his girlfriend months earlier. He actually played the first game of the season and was only de-activated from the Panthers roster after the Rice video ignited a public outcry. And at the time of writing this column the 290-pound Hardy still had not been disciplined by Goodell for the abuse he heaped on the woman. 

But what does it all mean? Sadly, probably very little. The fans will continue to pack the stadiums. Millions will continue to watch the games on TV. Sponsors will continue to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars every year. 

And, in a few weeks in a true act of hypocrisy, the NFL players will soon be wearing pink shoes and gloves in games to show how much the league cares about women when, in reality, the NFL really only cares about money. 

It doesn’t even care about its players who are simply today’s highly paid versions of the gladiators from Roman times. The NFL has allowed steroids to run rampant to bulk up its gladiators and make the game even more violent. One former NFL star Lyle Alzado died of brain cancer and until his final breath he was saying it was all due to steroids that were pushed on him in order to succeed. 

Then there are concussions and the NFL’s decades long refusal to believe they were a problem; much like tobacco companies lying about the hazards of smoking. The average lifespan of a former NFL player is a mere 55 years and they have a 37 per cent higher rate of Alzheimer’s than the overall population, according to a University of North Carolina study. 

Football has always been a tough game, but now the NFL just feels like a blood sport. 

Some of my favourite young adulthood memories revolve around the NFL and Sunday afternoons with dad and my brothers. We’d watch the games and compete in football pools. 

I vividly remember my dad and his legal-sized photocopied sheets of paper listing all the NFL picks. As each game finished, he’d use his blue highlighter pen to mark the players with the winning team. By four o’clock each Sunday afternoon we’d know whether our picks gave us a chance to win the week or whether we’d flamed out. 

It was fun family time, but those Sundays now seem so distant. I hardly ever watch a game anymore and I bet there are a growing number of people who are like that, too. 

As it says in the Bible, the love of money is the root of all evil and money has deep roots in the NFL. Sadly, until the NFL has its worst season in history, not just its worst week, the blood sport will continue along as now. 

(Brehl is a writer in Port Credit, Ont., and can be reached at bob@ abc2.ca.) 

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