incidental contact, or, safety is worth more than two points


After repeated errors, forced and otherwise, how is the NFL still above reproach?

One would think that a major corporate entity that has been the subject of several persistent incidents of public embarrassment and possible unethical conduct or liability would be more scrutinized than it is, or at the very least a little more self-restrained. One remembers the original iteration of AT&T being forced to break up in the early 90s, Microsoft has been the target of any number of antitrust matters, Walmart is always a convenient foil for those who hate small business whilst driving Subarus and Volvos whilst wearing Patagonia fleece and Toms Shoes.

Then there’s THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. (Sorry, Simmons. I had to rip you off.) Aside from a few gadflies and fringe movements, there is minimal media scrutiny, little if any outcry from the public, an outright allergy to asking tough questions of its leadership and billions of dollars in advertising revenue, licensing rights, broadcast arrangements and merchandise sales.

In America, everyone is equal under the law, unless it’s FOOTBALLFOOTBALLFOOTBALLFOOTBALLFOOTBALL, in which case, for fear of millions of people losing their reason to get drunk on Sundays, Dutch laws and dry counties be damned, and thousands of indentured servants student-athletes lose out on the substantial money to be gained via their intended professional vocation and not education, we must not speak such sacrilege of the sacred, even in the hushest of tones.

Media outlets are trying their best to isolate the latest public embarrassment, the Miami Dolphins’ personnel crisis between offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, the latter who has abandoned the team to come forward and claim abuse and harassment with the former in particular. The narrative has been that Martin was allegedly bullied, which is better–not by much, but certainly a softer choice of word–than saying he was allegedly harassed and abused. Even today, pundits and teammates went on the record needling at the accusations, from intimating that Martin lacked the emotional toughness to survive in the locker room to saying that the accused was a great teammate who just liked to have fun, occasionally at the expense of others. All in all, the prevailing narrative came into focus: locker rooms are all like this and always have been and, if you don’t like it, you can find another profession.

To say this is victim shaming is like calling the ocean a little moist.

The offensive line in football is supposed to be one of the more band of brothers-type units in pro sports. A good line allows the seamless execution of the offense, the poor line will get a quarterback bulldozed. So, to see this kind of supposed hazing-bullying-harassment-abuse going on in the midst of a specialized team that is predicated in no small part on chemistry, unity and communication is bizarre to say the least. To see the smearing of Jonathan Martin is bizarre, especially given the fact that there is evidence indicating that Incognito used racial slurs and threatened to do disturbing things to him. Martin would have been better served to have pulled a Chuck and Larry; instead, in the silence of his absence from the public eye since leaving the Dolphins, NFL alumni and his own teammates are backing away from one of their own. Look for the union label.

There’s just a little problem here: Martin isn’t an isolated incident, but just the latest in a string of events which have threatened to cast a shadow over the league. There was the long-standing cold war between former football players and the NFLPA over legacy benefits, the same former players and the league over long-term health and safety issues, the fact that there were more arrests and incidents involving NFL players in the last offseason than ever before–including murder charges against former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, the rapid rise in public conscientiousness regarding concussions, CTE and the suicides of former players including Junior Seau, Ray Easterling and Dave Duerson, the murder-suicide case of Jovan Belcher, the somewhat astroturfed fury surrounding the Washington Redskins’ moniker, the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal… you get the idea.

Any organization with as much questionable conduct amongst its employees and tolerated behaviors perpetuated from the higher-ups in their reticence to take action would stand to be investigated, right? Yet the NFL is a behemoth where its main purpose for existence takes up less than 10% of the calendar year and commands capital surpassing the gross national product of some sovereign nations, with virtually no one who will take them to task or hold anyone to account for their average of 11 minutes of game play per contest.

Why? Because the major media outlets–all four major television networks, as well as the Worldwide Leader in Sports which is owned in part by two of the largest media conglomerates in the world–dare not bite the hand that feeds them. ESPN withdrew its co-sponsorship of PBS’ Frontline documentary “League of Denial” when it became clear that the piece was going to be aggressive in taking the shield to task. They claimed it was because of a lack of editorial control. Reports surfaced claiming that the NFL pressured their withdrawal. One story makes sense, the other establishes who wears the pants in the business relationship. Everybody hates fascism until it comes down to being able to see Kellen Clemens sail a pass over somebody’s head. (Hey, why is my shirt brown? I don’t root for Cleveland!)

There are two reasons why pass interference is justified: one, if the pass was not catchable to begin with; and two, the receiver and a defender accidentally run into each other. Through all the problems of the league, they’ve consistently stepped away, arms back in the ‘who, me?’ form, claiming incidental contact. At some point, though, we have to see it for what it is: a corrupted organization run by greedy leadership sanctioning games played by people who would make 1800s baseball players and Ty Cobb look like Pope Francis and are little more than gladiators, reported on by news outlets terrified of giving them bad press for fear of being frozen out of the money, and viewed and consumed by a public that ultimately doesn’t give a crap.

Someone eventually is going to die on the field, and ratings will never be higher.

[EDITORIAL ASIDE: It should also be noted here that the answer to the safety problem is fairly simple: go back to less armor and padding. No one leads with a shoulder into the head when the shoulder isn’t six times the size it should be and the helmet doesn’t imply added protection, but the reality is that we want to see people get hit. ESPN used to run a weekly segment called “JACK’D UP!”, and I distinctly recall a video produced by the NFL back in the 90s celebrating the hardest hitters in history and showing their highlights. I digress.]

I like football, though I prefer baseball, basketball and hockey to it. It’s not the game that necessarily bothers me, it’s the brazen disregard the NFL seems to have for the public and its own participants: everything is tinged by cynicism when they strong-arm greater revenues out of businesses and ticket holders. The silence of the fourth estate is bought and paid for, antitrust exemption status is granted by the government to ensure that the only way the mousetrap is better is if Roger Goodell wills it, and the public is enabled to view a string of related atrocities and tragedies as isolated incidents which have no bearing on the milieu from whence they come. If they were any better at spin and optics, we’d avoid asking them about Benghazi rather than Ben Roethlisberger. Instead, we bite the whistle, keep the flag in our pocket and let them play, not realizing that we are the referees who can enforce order and force them to clean up their act.

Ultimately, the NFL isn’t the problem. We are. We are the sell outs, the blind, retard referees who grew up rooting for the other team. We are the corrupt ones; they just are wise enough to know we won’t stand up to them when they’re entertaining us and taking our money. To shut down the NFL would be to preach Christian sexual purity while getting a lap dance.

What else would we do on a Sunday afternoon in the fall?

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