So, the first week of the NFL is getting ready to kick off. It seems that the whole country is ready for some football. Unfortunately, there are shadows looming over the NFL this year. And, it appears these shadows are getting worse each year. The number of suspensions are extremely high, and nothing seems to be getting done about changing the culture of the NFL.
The San Francisco 49s has probably the most suspensions of any team in the league. I believe they have 3 or 4 players facing suspensions. And, then today, it was announced that Wes Welker, of the Denver Broncos, is being suspended for four games for violating the drug policy. Of course, Welker maintains his innocence and claims that the drug testing procedures in the NFL are flawed.
In Dallas a player who was convicted of vehicular manslaughter has applied for reinstatement. The league has said that he can return, but he must first face a 10 game suspension. Naturally, he is going to appeal this suspension. The star running back for the Baltimore Ravens was handed a two game suspension for domestic violence. This week the league announced new rules for domestic violence saying they would hand out a six game suspension for a first time offender and a lifetime ban for a second offense. Of course, the lifetime ban can be appealed after one year.
Just four days later, another player was arrested for domestic violence. He has said “the truth will come out”. I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear someone in his position say “the truth will come out”, I keep thinking that the victim will ultimately be blamed for his behavior.
The owner of the Indianapolis Colts has been suspended 6 games and fined $500,000 for his conviction of driving under the influence. The conviction was a plea bargain and is considered a misdemeanor in Indiana.
Michael Sam was cut by the Rams over the weekend. Some argue that he was simply playing the wrong position on a team that is full of defensive ends. Others claim that he was cut because he is openly gay. I don’t know the real reason for his being cut. I would hope that it was football related. But when you consider that every player who was even close to his numbers in pre-season is still with their team, it does make one wonder the real reason for his being cut. The Dallas Cowboys apparently want him for their practice squad, so we will see what happens from here.
Finally, the Washington Football team is under fire for its nickname. Many Native Americans are offended by the nickname that has only been used as a racial slur for a few hundred years now. The owner of the team claims it is a respectful name and doesn’t understand why there is an outcry to have it changed. Of course, pundits say it is merely politically correct “idiots” who find offense to the name.
So, the number one sport in America is getting ready to start the season. Yet, there are a lot of questions hanging over the league and its culture. This culture is nothing new either. In the past, there have been players accused of murder. Players were arrested for illegally carrying guns. Players were suspended because they accidentally shot themselves carrying guns.
To put all of the blame on the NFL is unfair. The blame goes well beyond the NFL. It goes to the culture that America has in “entitling” athletes and allowing them to basically get away with it. Remember a few years ago when some high school players were convicted of raping a classmate? At least one of those players is back on the football team today.
A prominent football quarterback at a major university was accused of rape last year. When everything was revealed, it was noted that the police didn’t want to press charges and thought the case shouldn’t have been brought. They were even quoted as telling the victim that pressing charges would cause her more harm because of the football culture in the town and state. The whole case was bungled, and the player did not have to answer to the charges.
Football is not alone in all of this either. Other sports have either had similar problems, or are going through some of them right now too. I remember when the NBA almost shut down. I know a lot of people never believed that it would actually close, but the public relations between the NBA and its fans took a horrible hit.
As a matter of fact, back in the 70s, a lot of people considered the NBA nothing but street gangs in shorts. Some are beginning to wonder if the NFL is nothing but a bunch of street gangs in pads. That is really an unfair analysis. Once again, the few who cheat or feel entitled to do whatever they want because they can play football is overshadowing the rest of the players in the league. I must admit though, that it is those other players who are remaining mute to these scandals that help keep them going.
Baseball had a steroid problem. Between steroids and human growth hormones, the game was being hijacked by the cheaters. The only reason this has been at least reduced is because the non-cheaters in the league had enough. They fought back against the cheaters and it was the players themselves that forced the drug testing and stricter suspensions we now see in baseball. It wasn’t the congressional hearings that forced baseball’s hand, it was its own players.
When baseball decided to find out how prevalent performance enhancing drugs actually was in the sport, they decided to test all players during spring training. If the total of “dirty” players was above a certain amount, I believe that it was 5%, mandatory drug testing would be put in place. If a player refused to take the test, it would count as a positive. The Chicago White Sox held a team meeting and every player on the team said they would refuse the test so they would ensure the results were above the limit and force mandatory testing.
I find it amazing that sports networks all have “discussions” about whether or not a suspension is appropriate or not. ESPN is among the most famous for their discussions. Yet, this is the very network that thought it was appropriate to discuss Michael Sam’s “showering” experiences while with the Rams.
We can argue that lifetime bans should be imposed for various crimes, especially domestic violence. But, until the players themselves start a backlash that helped baseball, this problem is not going to go away anytime soon. Until players see beyond their “entitlement” to play football, nothing will ever get fixed. Until players actually state they will not play with a “dirty” or “repeat offender”, there is nothing that the league really can do.
Teamwork is crucial in football and other sports. But, teamwork does not end at the sidelines of the playing field. It should extend beyond the field and into everyday life as well. Players need to police themselves. They need to start taking responsibility for their profession and start eliminating those who taint the product. The players need to stop enabling other players in their bad practices.