The National Football League I grew up loving and dreaming of playing in one day died long ago and in its place is a league driven by greed. The league I grew up loving was going head-to-head with the upstart American Football League and while there may have been talk of television revenue and profit margins back then, they never seemed to make the headlines or talking points in any of the newspapers I read or Sports Illustrated articles I devoured.
The NFL consisted of groups that went by names like The Purple People Eaters, Doomsday Defense, and The Fearsome Foursome. There was no debate; Johnny Unitas was the greatest quarterback to have played the game and Jim Brown was the greatest player the league ever produced. Many of our favorite players worked full time jobs in the off season to pay their bills because no one was getting rich playing professional football. Even the owners were not stinking rich old men. In both the NFL and AFL, owners were thinking long term with their investment into a game.
Games were televised in black and white and were often not shown to the end because network television had more important things to show on Sunday Night like 60 Minutes or family movies. It wasn’t until 1968 when NBC cut to the movie Heidi rather than show the exciting finish between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders that the fan anger resulted in a change. I was ten and my brother Chuck was twelve. My father, an original season ticket holder to the Oakland Raiders, scored two extra tickets to that game. He and mom walked us into the stadium and told us they would meet us back at the car after the game while we wandered off and found our seats.
There were no Black Hole, PSL’s, or ten-dollar hotdogs for sale. No one wore a Raiders jersey, and you didn’t get the shit beat out of you in a restroom if you were rooting for the Jets that day. It was football in its purest form, long before the league turned it into the multinational conglomerate it is today.
Don’t get me wrong, the players then took a beating every bit as much, if not more, than today. Head slaps, clothes lining, crack back blocks, and body slamming quarterbacks were allowed. When the game was over, players did not stand around mingling with opponents. They went back to their locker rooms, unwound miles of adhesive tape, removed biceps, elbow, and hand pads, and then turned their attention to removing more tape from their ankles and knees. They helped teammates remove their jerseys and shoulder pads before heading to the showers to wash the blood from their bodies.
There were no personal assistants, managers, assistant managers, trainers to the assistant managers, and interns to do all of what is done today. When the head coach addressed the team, players stopped and listened because they respected the job he had to do instead of turning to Twitter to piss and moan about their playing time.
As for player safety, there simply wasn’t any. Smelling salts were used in large quantities to clear the cobwebs left from violent helmet-to-helmet hits. Broken fingers were reset on the sideline and taped to another finger before sending the player back into the game. DMSO, a banned solvent used to relieve swelling on horses, was used by players to speed the healing of sprained ankles or dislocated shoulders.
The NFL did not attempt to sell a game that was made safe for participants. Instead, they sold a game that was as it appeared, violent and filled with characters who for the most part, once their careers were over, were never heard from again. Games were played on fields that became quagmires when the rain and snow of winter arrived. Team equipment managers needed more bleach and detergent on any given week than my mom used in a year dealing with a household of ten.
There was the Frozen Tundra of Green Bay, the wind that played havoc at Soldier Field in Chicago and Shea Stadium in New York. And in just about every stadium where games were played, there was the smell. Maybe it was salt air from ocean breezes, boiled hotdogs competing with lit cigars, or maybe just the smell of the horrific public restrooms. Whatever it was, it remains with you to this day and returns you instantly to a different time in America, a time that will never come back.
Today’s NFL is all about the experience they can sell you, and no matter how you try and take it in, they sell it. Nothing in the NFL is free anymore. Tickets today are tough to come by because you have to buy season tickets in most cases. Once you own a season ticket package, you might try selling individual games online to guys who pay close to a grand for a pair of seats. Don’t you dare try bringing in your own food to eat. The days of eating sandwiches made by mom are over. In their place are obscenely overpriced hotdogs, pizzas, and full-on gourmet meals because it’s all part of the experience. Just so you know, getting raped in the showers is part of the prison experience. Not everyone wants an experience.
Team jerseys are now a must, and you can’t have just one. You need a home and away jersey. From there, you need the throwback edition jerseys teams wear up to three times in a season. They also come in home and away versions. Then you need to support the “causes” the NFL wants us to believe matters to them. There are the pink jerseys for breast cancer support, camo jerseys because the NFL wants us to believe the only thing more glorifying than a hard-fought game is a good old-fashioned war. You need jerseys for your kids and let’s not forget about jerseys for your dogs and cats.
Once you are finished buying jerseys, you can buy blankets, throws, mugs, plates, license plate frames, watches, key chains, lanyards, hats, cell phone covers, cell phone ringtones, and even cell phone plans all in the name of corporate profits. You can pay for a variety of NFL plans that allow you access to any of a number of games to watch on that ginormous flat screen television you set up in your mancave. You can drink NFL sponsored beer while wearing NFL sponsored flip flops and your NFL team boxer shorts under your NFL pajama bottoms. If that is not enough, you can fly your official NFL team flag in front of your home in case the neighbors did not know by your NFL mailbox who you support.
Even if you do not watch the games or care about the league, you support the NFL with your taxes. Stadiums are expensive and now are lucky if they last 25 years before it is time to tear them down so a newer one can provide an even better experience unless of course you want to see your team pack up and move to another city. Your fealty is mandated, or you will be required to pay a severe price; no home team to root for.
The L in the NFL does not stand for loyalty. Owners will leave in a heartbeat if it means more profits and a shinier stadium. Players get cut almost before their injured body can be removed from the playing field. But that is okay because players also leave in the name of more money now that they make millions of dollars per year. You see, it’s not just the owners who no longer relate to the common fan, the players fail as well. That’s okay, because every year, the league offers up fantasy leagues that allow “fans” to actually pick players from other teams in a competition about individual statistics instead of a singular team’s performance.
Then there is the ultimate game the NFL gives its seal of approval to that is sold to the guy who never quite made it through his first practice of freshman football, Madden Football. The beauty of this game is not that it allows you to play the most up-to-date team rosters. It is that it requires you to buy a new version every year to remain current. This helps entertain you when the NFL is not playing on Sunday, Monday, Thursday and even some Saturdays.
Heck, the NFL has even justified moving a team to Las Vegas, the gambling capital of America, while suspending players for a year because they gambled on non-NFL games while in the parking lot of their team facility. If they had placed the same bets at their home, they would be okay, but not in an NFL parking lot, even if it is in Las Vegas.
Somehow, I have failed to address the issue of violence and safety. Here is a nice bit of information to the woman who marries an NFL fanatic. Domestic violence increases when the team your sweet, beer guzzling hubby lives and dies by losses. You may want to take the kids and check into a motel come game day because losing can be ugly. And you thought it was just the Ray Rices of the NFL who were violent. Think again.
Try attending an actual game and cheering for the opposing team. Let’s just say the days when I attended Raider/Steeler playoff games in Oakland and loudly rooted for Pittsburgh to my Dad’s dismay are long gone. Even if you make it out of the game alive, you’re still likely to get beat to within an inch of your life walking back to your car while wearing a Steelers jersey.
As for the game? Well, it is as violent as ever no matter how much the NFL tries to convince you otherwise. You see, they have managed to distract you by driving the point home that through their research and the help of improved helmets, the game has never been safer. You do know two recent preseason games were called early due to horrific injuries.
If only the head was the only exposed part of the body, the game could be called safer today. However, there are these things called joints and they do worse than ever thanks to the massive increase in size and speed of today’s players. Playing surfaces add to the problems with an endless amount of what the league calls, “Non-Contact Injuries,” so we do not blame them for watching your favorite player blow out his knee or tear his Achilles tendon. Of course, the sheer size and strength of today’s players add to the likelihood of such injuries as it appears the growth rate of NFL players the past few decades far surpasses that which is considered normal by science.
Better nutrition alone does not account for bigger, faster, and more violent players. Testosterone levels, which the league allows at five times above what the AMA claims as normal before a failed drug test is a problem. It not only explains the on-field violence that results in catastrophic injuries every week, but it also results in violent, and sometimes fatal, behavior off the field. It seems the league does not want us focusing on the players who can’t get enough of the rush they get playing a game for a living. They take it to the streets in their cars when they drive over 100 mph, the clubs they attend where they feel the need to be armed because they hang with such fine citizens, and their homes, where too often their wives, girlfriends, or children end up as victims.
In the eyes of owners, this is all part of the cost of doing business and is built into their financial planning. Even lawsuits as a result of creepy owners like Dan Snyder are part of that cost. And through it all, owners remain steadfastly silent because they have been paying Roger Goodell hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to sell the league to the public. You could bet if Goodell never became commissioner, he would have used his talents to become elected to the senate where he would be lining his pockets with money from lobbyists. It takes a man without a conscience or shred of decency to do the dirty work for 32 villains.
So, there you have it, today’s NFL is nothing like the NFL from my youth. But then again, nothing else is. It’s just that the NFL has done it better than anyone else, which is why fans accept what they do without questioning who or what they are supporting. Would we proudly walk around town wearing jerseys that represent our favorite petrochemical company? How about our favorite pharmaceutical company? Maybe we can all wear team jerseys of our favorite Wall Street rip-off artists.
The NFL has morphed into an ugly beast that stops at nothing and seeks to take over soccer as the world sport now that it has long supplanted baseball as our national game. Profits are all that matters. How the owners achieve their financial goals is not nearly as important as just getting wealthier every year.
All I can say is good riddance to the NFL. You are nothing like the game I grew up loving. Your NFL experience has long stopped being mine. It’s an experience I feel wonderful not having passed onto my children. Maybe I am just a cantankerous old fart, but a three-hour nap sounds like a far more enjoyable experience than anything the NFL can offer me, and it is free.
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.