Photo above: Super Bowl XLVIII (48) featuring the Denver Broncos v. the Seattle Seahawks. It was one of the most lopsided scores in Super Bowl history: 43-8, Seahawks over the Broncos. It is estimated more than 160 million people tuned in, 111 million just in the U.S., making it the most popular single day sporting event in history. We love football and maybe that has a lot to do with the arrogance of a league that feels like it can “get away with it.”
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Football is a wonderful sport, full of wonderful people.
Yes, the top two stories of this NFL season include high-profile running backs beating women and children, but that shouldn’t condemn the game as a whole.
And sure, commissioner Roger Goodell has blown the handling of the Ray Rice scandal three different times, and possibly engaged in a Nixonian coverup of the way he bungled it, but let’s not judge him or the league for that. Any one of us would’ve done the same, and would also have blown the investigation of Bountygate — you know, the thing where players were gambling on who could injure other people the worst — so badly that every punishment handed out was vacated. We should judge none of these people harshly, because football teaches important life lessons to our children.
For instance, ex-commisioner Paul Tagliabue, brought in to re-investigate the bounty scandal, taught us that quick resolutions keep problems in-house. Had he not taught us that, the judicial system might’ve stepped in and started monitoring the NFL’s business a little more closely. Even the seemingly power-mad Goodell was willing to take some pie in the face to avoid that scenario.
One supporter of the clearly angelic Goodell is Washington owner Dan Snyder, whose team name has come under fire for some time due to concerns over racism. Snyder has thus far refused to engage in anything like a rational discussion with the offended parties, despite the massive PR boost he (and the league) would get at a time they sorely need it, and the at least surface-level palliative it might offer to those citizens rubbed the wrong way by recent events in Ferguson and elsewhere.
Instead, Snyder voiced his support for Goodell over the Rice scandal — which may well include the face of the league lying about evidence to protect an admitted wife-beater — in a manner certainly unrelated to Goodell’s support of Snyder over the team name issue. These are wonderful people, and they would never so willfully (and obviously) scratch each other’s back at the expense of minorities and women.
Football can teach us many valuable things, such as teamwork, goal-setting, and how to fight through adversity. It also teaches many of its players how to forget those lessons after they’ve learned them, because football causes brain damage at an alarming rate. A recent study showed that one-third of NFL players are expected to develop long-term cognitive problems, and at a much lower age than in the general population. Football thus bestows gifts to players’ family members, who learn much earlier in life how to care for ailing parents and spouses, and how to fill out complicated insurance forms to recoup disability benefits.
This, of course, is a gift on top of the previous gift the NFL gave these families by teaching them how to fight the league’s denial of football-related dementia in the courts.
Some players, as they come up through high school and college, dream of becoming doctors after their playing careers are over. Doctors need skills in problem-solving and to become expert in the use of medications, and football is a perfect vehicle for that. Former Steeler Mike Webster, for example, learned how to engage in prescription fraud to obtain mountains of pills for the litany of permanent, agonizing injuries he suffered. When even this proved ineffective, he developed the work-around of shocking himself into unconsciousness with a Taser. Surely it was his work in football’s trenches — the work that reduced his mind to that of a child through thousands of incidents of head trauma — that taught him how to be so resourceful.
Manhood is a tricky thing for any of us to master, or even define. Primal urges bred into us over thousands of years must be managed and tempered when interacting with women and children. That’s what allows society to function — human beings working in concert despite inherent differences. Football allows fans a vacation from that by appealing to our basest urges toward violence in a societally acceptable way. We can yell and scream and feel the exhilaration of watching our heroes take huge risks to achieve the nearly physically impossible. Those of us outside the game can then go about our day, free of any consequences (except for those induced by beer or spicy chicken wings).
This is why football players are much more evolved than the rest of us. They spend years, perhaps decades, in an environment where pain is expected, where on any play you might suffer a permanent physical or neurological injury, and where you’re constantly aware of that, and thus operating at least partially from a place of constant fear. It’s a world where they’re drilled constantly to NEVER show weakness, NEVER admit pain, and to resolve all problems through adrenaline, though physical struggle, through the heightened emotions, like rage, that those things can engender. This is taught repeatedly, constantly, through thousands of hours of practice, of repetition, from boyhood to adulthood. It’s ingrained in them by the sport that dominates their lives.
So when they come off the field — a place not unlike a real-life battlefield in terms of the instincts it appeals to — it’s obviously not football’s fault that they turn to violent answers for situations that aren’t inherently violent. It’s not as if they’ve been trained for the majority of their lives, and through almost every stage of cognitive development, to respond to adversity physically.
That’s why Ray McDonald, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Keelan Johnson, Lorenzo Taliaferro, TJ Ward, Greg Hardy, Josh Morgan, Aldon Smith, Orson Charles, Chris Culliver, Jah Reid, Ray Rice, Devone Bass, and Michael Hill shouldn’t blame football for the violent crimes they’ve been charged with in 2014.
It’s why Dave Duerson, Junior Seau, Andre Waters, Terry Long, and others couldn’t possibly blame the sport for driving them to suicide (or in Javon Belcher’s case, murder-suicide).
After all, fifty million Elvis fans can’t be wrong, right? Football’s a billion-dollar industry, a ratings bonanza, and the biggest spectator sport in the world’s most powerful country.
Just like how feeding people to lions used to be, back in Rome.
Jack McDonald is an award-winning sportswriter whose writing has been published on Bleacher Report and in Bill Simmons’ award-winning book, `Now I Can Die In Peace’. He has written and produced sketch comedy and performs as a standup comic in Los Angeles.