Wife-beaters, child-abusers, players above the law, a law in sync with players, a media tip-toeing the line, owners, coaches and teammates not bothering to speak out. Welcome to the NFL, says Ewan MacKenna
Last February, Ray Rice and his fiancée entered the elevator of a casino in Atlantic City. By the time they exited, CCTV showed him dragging her limp body and dumping it in a corridor after he had punched her in the face, knocking her out. The NFL would say they didn’t see the footage until September despite strong reports suggesting they’d the tape since April; they’d initially suspend the Baltimore Ravens running back for just two games anyway; meanwhile Rice has since married his victim who has blamed everyone else bar her husband for what transpired.
Last May, Adrian Peterson decided his son needed to be taught a lesson after pushing a sibling. So, he grabbed a tree branch, stripped it down and left the boy with what doctors said were lacerations on his thighs, bruises on his back and buttocks, and cuts on his hands that amounted to child abuse. The four-year-old told his mother that Peterson stuffed leaves in his mouth, smacked him in the face and “has a whooping room”. Yet the Minnesota Vikings haven’t sacked their star player, haven’t even spoken out, while a teammate has been quoted as saying he’s a great father.
It goes on. And on. And on. The same month as Peterson’s version of parenting, Greg Hardy battered his wife and, despite being found guilty, still lined out for the Carolina Panthers for week one of this season. He’s since been suspended but retains his $13.1m salary. Jonathan Dwyer is still an Arizona Cardinal after smashing his wife’s nose with a headbutt when she confronted him over cheating in July. By August, police arrived at the home of San Francisco 49er Ray McDonald where his wife revealed neck and arm bruises. Welcome to the rotten and rancid world of American football.
As a kid, I’d get up early on weekend mornings to tune into NFL highlights and was always taken with the power and pomp. By my teens, trips to visit my late uncle in Buffalo involved staying up to watch SportsCenter and as the hype and hysteria of slick highlights flitted by, what they had for sport seemed so much better. Even nowadays, Saturdays involve a dollop of the college version but as you watch the clean-cut storylines behind souped-up athletes, you realise what you’re living is a big, disgusting lie.
Of course breaking the law is nothing new but you can only yearn for the days when a policeman pulled over Babe Ruth, told him he was going the wrong direction on a one-way street to which Ruth responded, “I’m only going the one way”. But the actions of American athletes have gradually deteriorated ever since and as they get more and more, they give back less and less. Besides, no matter how often we hear their stories, familiarity shouldn’t attach itself to such vile behaviour; rather it should shock to the point that responses from stakeholders put an end to it all.
Yet in an area where there should be no place or precedent for excuses, that’s what we tend to get. Such pandering forms one of the roots of the problem as a sense of entitlement propels player discipline to lower and darker depths. Instead of countering the right way, first and foremost, owners and fantasy players want to win and the media want to sell what they’ve paid a fortune for.
On CNN recently, a journalist spoke of how Peterson seemed genuine and was doing his best to raise his son well. After Rice’s assault, a show on Fox joked that “she should have taken the stairs”. When ESPN’s Bill Simmons called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a liar for saying he didn’t see the video of that incident until recently, the influential journalist was suspended. And the void is filled by soundbites from those who shouldn’t have a voice. Like Peterson saying, “Never do I go overboard,” before giving his opinion on Rice which went: “All I have to say about that is I send my prayers out to Ray and his wife and wish him the best.”
Some major United States newspapers have shown figures which show the arrest rate in the NFL is lower than men of the same age within the rest of society. But this isn’t the rest of society; it should be the best of society with millionaire players living in the most lucrative areas having been given free educations. Besides, part of what NFL players sign up for is responsibility as athletes were once the gold standard yet the fact America now judges them by the lowest societal standards shows their game’s demise. And it’s not just the pro game either, but the production line promises consistency.
In high school, the best are tolerated the most. And it works its way along. In January, Jameis Winston lifted the college football title after guiding the Florida State Seminoles to victory. Yet in celebration, the talk was of his performances and potential and not of the sexual assault complaint against him, how the investigation was conducted by an officer who did private work for financiers of Florida State athletics, how a medical examination revealed bruises and semen on the victim, how police never interviewed or got a DNA sample from Winston, and how they didn’t go after a video of the incident taken by teammate Chris Casher. Instead there was a familiar silence to put Simon and Garfunkel to shame, much like there’s been from all those NFL players and coaches this summer who never say a word over the wrongs of colleagues and the ills of their profession. All because what gridiron players do on the field seems to cover for animalistic actions off of it.
The world over, kids pretend to be their sporting heroes across the day and go to sleep dreaming of being just like them. But given all that, it makes you wonder what American parents think as they tuck their children in at night.
Sunday Business Post
28 September, 2014