On the heels of Antwaan Randel El, yet another former pro coming forward disclosing health issues and regretting his playing days for the shield, it is becoming more and more evident that the NFL has to change. The way it is currently constructed, with Roger Goddell at its head, simply cannot stand the onslaught of public relations hits that they are taking. Granted, the NFL has proven seemingly invincible to the slew of revelations, realizations, testimonies, and events all of which have pointed to football being not only dangerous but calling into question the NFL’s handling of player health and care.
It goes much deeper than that though. Somewhere along the way the NFL went from a budding, beloved, and celebrated league representing, perhaps, the finest sport humanity has created and has become a shadow organization. A place where facts are hidden or distorted to control the message. Where responsibility is shirked with a check and an avalanche of non-disclosure agreements. Where families are told what to say and when to say it even when they are memorializing their own husband and father. Somewhere along the way, the NFL became evil.
Now, perhaps the term ‘evil’ is a bit strong but when you look at how the NFL has acted over the past ten or so years, really since Goddell’s ascension, its hard to come up with any other word. They discouraged and shouted down studies asking questions about concussions even though they knew the damage it was causing. They allowed former players to spiral and descend into madness and violence when they were making more money than ever. They are forcing players in college to play a game we all now know puts their future lives in jeopardy for the sake of propping up the collegiate version of the sport. A version that, amazingly, doesn’t pay players that are risking their lives so their NCAA backed development league can reap all of the rewards. They have supplied drugs freely to their players inciting addiction yet have the gumption to decry any player caught smoking pot.
The NFL is hypocrisy given form. A crony-based hiring system that embodies everything wrong with American corporations. There is nothing open or transparent about the NFL. It hides behind its shield screaming its motto of “integrity” while, at every possible turn, having anything but. There is no assumption of responsibility. No proactive changes. It is all reaction and driven by the whims of the public who still watch the game despite these transgressions.
If the NFL cared about player health they would let players enter it as soon as they were 18. Forcing men who may be NFL ready to play in college, absorbing another year of hits, risking injuries that could cost them millions is irresponsible. The only reason to do so is to keep those players on college teams and to prop up college football. Any other reason is lip service and bullshit. Yes I know collegiate football is a tool for many to get a degree they otherwise wouldn’t have but we are talking about those players that know they can play at the next level. They are out there and the NFL, through its rules (no doubt supported by that other sterling organization the NCAA), is forcing young men to absorb additional punishment just for the chance. This would be like if boxing made everyone fight for free until they got a title shot.
I know the argument is then that 18 year old men aren’t mature enough for the money and the fame but does anyone think a 20 or 21 year old is? If that is such a worry then the NFL should be providing robust classes for all players year in and year out. Should be providing lawyers, financial advisors, should be paying for tuition for those players that want to continue their education. Not having Cris Carter telling rookies to have a fall guy. Not just putting their hands up in the air and marking someone with red flags and an aww shucks attitude. Not letting men that they have employed, that they sought out, fall by the wayside into destitution and financial, emotional, and physical ruin.
If the NFL cared we’d be seeing more than proverbs and buzzwords delivered with the enthusiasm of Siri every time the commissioner spoke. They wouldn’t have signed a settlement allowing them to never reveal what they knew and when as far as CTE is concerned. They wouldn’t be forcing players to play on short weeks as their bodies try to recover. They wouldn’t be looking to expand the regular season and the playoffs. They would recognize the game is dangerous. That every man who puts on the pads only has so many hits he can take, so many injuries he can sustain, before his body is ruined and his mind warped. They know this. They have known this and still they seek to squeeze more blood from the valuable rock their profits are derived from.
This is why Goddell was hired. This is why he is getting paid an absurd salary. Its because the owners have asked him to be soulless. They’ve tasked him with making them as much money as possible before it comes crashing down. To be the fall guy. To be the lighting rod of hatred and frustration while 32 owners cash checks and build super facilities that, if need be, can simply become concert and entertainment venues if the NFL should ever fall off. Its why they are trying to trick cities into paying for stadiums. They want to hoard as much wealth as they can before the gravy train pulls out of the station. Its all about the money and as the old axiom says, money is the root of all evil.
It doesn’t have to be like this though.
I dream of a day where the NFL recognizes it is responsible for the health of its players. That they recognize the equipment, the training, the plays, the rules are all conducive to trauma that is sometimes irreparable. Where they aren’t looking to play more games on more days raising the chances for devastating injuries to occur. Where players aren’t given shots of who knows what or told to take whatever to get back on the field so fantasy players are happy. Where they don’t exploit a collegiate system for free to harvest fresh meat for the grinder and realized forcing trauma on players who may be NFL ready can only lead to lost opportunities and bitterness. Where they help facilitate the college game becoming a paying gig that exists outside of the NCAA. Like a student who works in a factory to pay for college isn’t regulated by the NCAA neither should football. This game is too dangerous and makes too much money to simply be called a collegiate sport. Where they work with medical professionals, instead of against, to determine when football is healthy to play so children in Pop Warner aren’t at unnecessary risk. Maybe to recognize that contact in football should only be played at a certain level to prevent harmful, lasting injuries. To work with the NFLPA to create a disclaimer that will provide for players who are so willing to sacrifice everything just for a chance to play a game they love and be watched by fans who love the game. Where the NFL acts like it truly does care about player safety and the integrity of the sport.
I dream of a day where the NFL doesn’t feel like its dying.