Street Corner Soapbox
The Violent Nature of the NFL and the Business of Football.
Ray Rice: You knew this was coming, didn't you? We've been bombarded with stories and opinions and videos of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée, Janay, in a hotel elevator. We're outraged. Outraged that Rice punched his partner, outraged that the NFL initially brushed it off with a two-game suspension despite video showing the former Baltimore running back dragging an unconscious Janay Rice from the elevator.
But you've already had your dose of outrage about Rice from a dozen (hundred?) other columnists.
Heck, your outrage may even have been fine-tuned by the knowledge that Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers was picked up by police for assaulting his pregnant fiancée – three days after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced a tougher domestic violence policy – and yet still hasn't missed a game. "This is completely different," teammate Alex Boone told USA Today. "There's no video of [McDonald] hitting a woman." Indeed.
What wiggle room exists for the NFL in the McDonald case – he hasn't been charged with a crime yet, although the NFL could suspend him anyway – can't be said for the Carolina Panther Pro Bowler, Greg Hardy, who was convicted and sentenced in July of assaulting his girlfriend. According to her protective order, Hardy repeatedly threw her around his apartment, choked her, pulled her hair, "screaming at me that he was going to kill me, break my arms and other threats that I completely believe."
Hardy missed his first game Sunday, Sept. 14 after the Panthers deactivated him. The NFL is waiting for the result of his appeal.
It's hard to argue with Terry O'Neil, president of the National Organization of Women (NOW), when she says the NFL "doesn't have a Ray Rice problem; it has a violence against women problem."
Or just a problem with violence, period.
Because now there's marquee Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson who was indicted for beating his four-year-old child with a switch. According to a medical report, Peterson's son had cuts on his thighs and hands and bruises on his lower back and buttocks. Peterson allegedly also hit his son with a belt. The child claims his father, according to a CBS report, "likes belts and switches and has a 'whooping' room." Peterson is missing a game, but hasn't been suspended or punished in any way by the Minnesota Vikings or the NFL.
And let's not forget Baltimore linebacker, Ray Lewis, who was involved in a double homicide at an Atlanta nightclub after the 2000 Super Bowl. The victims' blood was found in Lewis' limo, and his friends had bought knives the day before – but the blood-splattered white suit Lewis wore the night of the murders disappeared mysteriously, and he escaped with only obstruction of justice charges. Lewis was fined by the NFL, but was not suspended. And this year, in time for the football season, the Baltimore Ravens unveiled a statue of Lewis outside M&T Bank Stadium.
But all of the Ray Rice hooplah may have obscured a report released by the NFL as part of its ongoing concussion lawsuit with former players that those in the NFL have a 30 percent chance of developing dementia, Parkinson's, or Alzheimer's – a rate twice as high as the general public.
And all of that may have overshadowed the NCAA's decision to lift the sanctions on Penn State University football. The sanctions – reduced football scholarships, a four-year ban on bowl appearances, and a $60 million fine – were enacted after it was discovered head football coach Joe Paterno and administrators covered up their knowledge that former coach Jerry Sandusky was molesting children. According to the NCAA, Penn State had successfully met recommendations to improve the integrity of the university's athletic department.
"[T]his was one particular case in which the NCAA's heavy hand was just," wrote Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp. "You'll never again see a better example of 'lack of institutional control' than the duplicity orchestrated within virtually every branch of power within Penn State regarding Sandusky. There was never a more disturbing picture of football trumping the responsibility of adults protecting our children than the infrastructural breakdowns at that university. " That duplicity was later keenly felt in Erie and other satellite campuses where Sandusky ran summer football camps and showered with children for years after he was caught raping a boy in the Nittany Lions locker room.
So...why? Why would league and college football officials tolerate domestic abuse, random acts of violence, child rape? Are these people that cruel, that indifferent to human misery?
The answer to that question was evident on Penn State's campus at the site where a statue of Joe Paterno stood before it was taken down after the Sandusky revelations. More than 5,000 students gathered and chanted, "We want Joe" and protested for reinstatement of the Penn State Coach's forfeited wins. Many Penn State students and fans had seen sanctions as their punishment, that they were the victims of the scandal.
That is, the NFL and NCAA are acutely conscious that football is no game. It's a business. A big business. Top college programs gross tens of millions of dollars in revenue from their football programs, and the NFL – the most lucrative professional sports league in the world – is a $10-billion-a-year industry. The NCAA and NFL commissioner Goodell are concerned first and foremost with profit, with appearance, with viewership.
Football is the thing. It's become bigger than the mission of higher education. It's become bigger than the safety of players' families. And we made it that way.
That's right. Football tolerates bad, even criminal, behavior because we get angry if our favorite players are removed from the game. Five-thousand students gathered to cheer a football program that looked away from child abuse to preserve its reputation. Adrian Peterson already has defenders saying beating children is no big deal. Even Ray Rice's suspension caused Baltimore fans to wear his number and rally in his defense. And how many fans would protest if the NFL worked to minimize head injuries in the game? Violence is integral to football.
In short, the NFL looks away from its problems because we want it to. We don't want the game's complexities. And until we say otherwise – or even leave the game in droves – it will stay this way.
Jay Stevens can be contacted at Jay@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @Snevets_Yaj.