Much has been written and talked about in the media regarding the troubling culture of the NFL. The commissioner doesn’t take domestic violence seriously; player behavior is out of control; and owners care more about profits than the character of the players. On top of this, a new report indicates one-third of all NFL players will leave the game with some level of brain damage, leaving us to question whether or not the game is safe to play at any level.
Still, fans follow the game at a record rate. They participate in fantasy football leagues as well as follow their favorite teams. They bet millions of dollars every weekend on the outcome of games while also purchasing NFL merchandise in a variety of forms. Clearly, Americans love and want the game despite recent polls showing their desire to see improved player conduct and stiffer penalties for law-breakers.
Unfortunately, as a society, we are more concerned over the conduct of fewer than two thousand professional football players than we are over society as a whole. I keep hearing people say, “It is a privilege and not a right to play the game.” In reality, it is neither. Being a professional football player is nothing more than a brutal job.
Can you name any other profession that is allowed to thrive while causing one-third of its work force brain damage? Americans should be demanding OSHA step in and shut the game down rather than helping it achieve record annual profits. However, if that were to happen, what would we do on Sunday afternoons or Monday and Thursday evenings?
If you use the “It’s not a right, it’s a privilege” argument and apply it to all jobs in the United States, we would have to hold ourselves accountable to the same standards as the NFL. How many of us are willing to undergo random drug testing knowing it could cost us our career and reputation? Are we willing to have our work performance posted in newspapers and on web sites while dissected by talking heads on television and radio? Would we be comfortable knowing we can be canned from our jobs and not owed a dime despite having a signed contract? Do we want to have to look for a new career because someone tells us at the age of thirty or thirty-five we are over the hill?
If we want the culture of the NFL to change, we must first change the culture of the nation that created it. We also have to stop embracing the violence and win at all cost mentality behind the game.
At least half of our nation has been raised in a time in which we embraced violent video games starting at an early age. What type of adult behavior do we expect to churn out when parents allow their kids to play games centered around making quick and violent decisions in order to advance to a higher level? It should not surprise us that during this video age we have also seen a huge rise in school violence, mass shootings, and domestic violence.
When we promote the sale and use of alcohol and link it to the enjoyment of our football viewing experience, it only makes sense we see a rise in domestic violence calls on Sundays in cities where the home team loses. It is also why we see an increase in DUIs as drunken fans try to drive home, sometimes with tragic results.
As a culture, perhaps we would be better served if we corrected and eliminated the behavior of local gangs, drug dealers, and other violent criminals so our Sundays can once again be spent enjoying life outdoors rather than living vicariously through professional football players. Maybe if we eliminated, rather than celebrated, reality TV shows that glorify drinking, degradation, loud confrontations, and narcissistic behavior, we might see an improvement in not just football player behavior, but also the behavior of fans and society in general.
If we are going to see significant change in player behavior in the NFL it will require us to demand better from ourselves. It will mean confronting problems on a national level and not just a National Football League level. It will also require us to be better doctors, teachers, trash collectors, and most of all, citizens.
If playing in the NFL is a privilege then so should being a citizen of this nation. Our best leaders lead by example and not by the, “Do as I say and not as I do,” philosophy too many of us live by. We all need a wake up call when it comes to individual conduct before placing higher expectations on the NFL. By demanding more from ourselves, we all lead by example and that will, in time, show in how the NFL’s commissioner, players, and owners conduct themselves.
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.