With the current flurry of domestic violence and horror stories coming out of the NFL people are looking at the football players and wondering what’s going on. The gridiron stars are being tagged with beating their children, beating their girlfriends/wives and the public is roaring for answers.
But we, the paying public, are part of the problem. We built this monster and now when it’s roaring and clawing its way through the media like Godzilla we’re acting surprised.
The public routinely excuses football players from moral missteps on a daily basis all the way down to the public school system. Let’s go back to Steubenville Ohio where a teenager was raped by members of the school football team and it was covered up not only by the team members but by the school administration and to a certain degree by the authorities who didn’t want to put any shadows over a successful high school football team. They were willing, until public pressure forced them otherwise, to sacrifice a young woman for the sake of their team’s winning records.
High school football players are used to being treated with kid gloves, to getting special treatment because of the money and the power given to NFL players. Asking high school players to maintain a high grade point average, for example, can get parents up in an outrage demanding their children be allowed to play with less than a C average allowed. Because there’s no need for their darlings to get an education when they’re going to go to the NFL, play for the Steelers and make millions, right?
Then we move to the college football system and it gets even more terrifying. Penn State may have recovered from the Sandusky years in that the penalties have been lifted from the football team but the hard fact is that the powers that run Penn State were willing to sacrifice children on the altar of college football and allowed a pedophile to run rampant on their premises because it got the team more wins. And with the huge financial benefits offered to winning college football teams… well, the children were an acceptable collateral damage. In this case it wasn’t the players who were ducking any moral responsibility it was the coaches and administration who had no problem feeding the monster as long as it kept the money flowing.
Now we move to the NFL and the recent lack of law enforcement to do the most basic thing – defend those who can’t defend themselves. While it’s easy to point the finger at the NFL and whine about the teams having to sit players out let’s remember that law enforcement allowed Ray Rice to slide into a diversion program because he was a big-name football player and no one wanted to stop his career for such a little thing like knocking a woman unconscious. The prosecutors, the very men who are supposed to be neutral and working for all of us, decided he would get a free walk because he was a NFL player and thus didn’t really need to answer for his crimes the same as anyone else. I can guarantee that if Ray Rice hadn’t been a football player he wouldn’t have gotten such an easy ride back to society. But the football culture demanded that he get special treatment like so many of his peers who just have to flash a smile, sign a few autographs and they don’t have to worry about such little things as domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and all those little legal misgivings the rest of us would have to answer for. How many stories have we seen about these men committing crimes and giving a slap on the wrist by law enforcement or, again, a paltry fine or other light punishment because no one wants to keep their favorite player off the field?
These football players you see on the television explaining away their teammates’ behavior have no idea why you should think anything different because they think they are truly above the law. That whipping a young child until the blood runs free isn’t child abuse but acceptable because that’s the way to discipline a child and besides, I PLAY FOOTBALL. When these men have been allowed to get anything they want for years, decades in some cases from the minute they stepped on the field in high school, why are we surprised when they look blankly at us when we demand a higher moral example?
We made this monster by encouraging a culture where skill in tossing a ball down a field trumps everything including moral responsibility and basic humanity in some cases. We reward physical strength over intelligence and encourage cheating to keep the college team’s winning streaks, we cover over criminal acts because no one wants to smear a young man’s possible multi-million dollar career over a little mistake like rape.
How do we stop this? I don’t know if we can. The mentality has to start back in high school where football needs to be treated as just another sport without the mythos attached to it, where it should be considered a useful part of the school curriculum but without the social status. You don’t get to skip classes because you’re on the team, you don’t get to pass your courses without doing the homework because you can rush for fifty yards.
You don’t get to beat children until they’re bloody and smack your women around because you can toss a pigskin thirty yards or hold the defensive line on your own. You don’t get to be excused from basic common sense because you play football. You don’t get millions of dollars and get away with mocking the law.
We made this monster. We’re the ones who will have to bring it to heel and I’m not sure if we want to. The Steubenville rapists had their supporters, Penn State still has those who believe nothing happened in the showers. Ray Rice has teammates who think he just had a bad day, Adrian Ferguson has buddies claiming they got “whupped” just as bad so it’s all good.
It’s not all good. And if we don’t stop treating football players of all levels as special snowflakes exempted from basic human principles of good and evil, right and wrong the culture that created these men will keep on going.