This is the rant that is going to infuriate a lot of people and possibly get me fired, but tough subjects need to be addressed as much as the menial tripe that is normally discussed by the media. Too much unchecked vitriol has been shot towards two football players who now unfortunately represent all that is wrong with professional sports.
People should not be hypercritical of the cases brought against Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. The contentious and pretentious disdain that has been directed at these players was completely warranted by the athletes, however the self-righteous finger pointers who are calling for their jobs are clueless morons. Yes, Ray Rice admitted to striking his fiancee in the face while in a closed elevator, knocked her unconscious when her head hit the railing after the punch, and then drug her through a casino. And yes, Adrian Peterson struck his children so hard that one has a permanent scar on his head from a previous incident, and the other was left with welts, cuts, and bruises from the most recent discipline. But, no one should be fighting for their removal from the league.The next statement will sound apathetic and irresponsible in the context of the severity of these events, but football caters to the opinions of too many patrons and it is negatively affecting people’s lives and the game of football.
In any other profession, the exact same actions would not warrant the dismissal of a person – because that is what they are, people who are not perfect – from his/her occupation for making a terrible mistake in their personal life, and then subject them to public ridicule and humiliation. As entertainers, football players should be held to higher standards than the general public, but they should not be ostracized and disposed of when they make poor choices, even when those choices involve hurting someone that they love.
Here is what everyone should be appalled about. Each year, the National Football League fields about 1,596 players, 53-man rosters for 32 teams. Since 1999, the NFL has had 730 run-ins with the law. But, no one cared about any of the crimes of football players until the Rice video surfaced. People wanted to be entertained by the most popular sport in the U.S., so they looked the other way when football players broke the law. The game of football stands as one of the most brutal sports in the world and its players commit more crimes than players in other sports. Whether the game of football attracts athletes who are more violent and aggressive to the sport or the game of football molds normal people into violent players, statistics show that football athletes have more incidents with the law than the average person. No one has cared about that problem for the last few decades because of the popularity of the sport. But, the ever-expanding fan base of the National Football League and the constant breaches of privacy by social media outlets have put a face to domestic violence and shined a light on the league’s indiscretions. Unfortunately, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson are paying the price for that.
The National Football League has navigated the thin line between media relations and public ruin from its inception in the 1920′s until now. The league survived integration, player injuries, and financial issues because the NFL regularly changes rules, protocol, and style of play to accommodate the ever expanding breadth of their fans. Professional football remains a competitive league and a lucrative business because the commissioner and owners keep the game relevant. Each game counts in a season because there are only 16 games. Players are paid solely based on their performance, their importance to the team, and their estimated value to the franchise in the future. No contracts are fully guaranteed which means that players compete every year to reach their full earning potential. That means that fans get the best product every game and management can charge exorbitant prices for their product. That principle stands today as one the most competent business practices, ‘Give the people what they want.’ But occasionally, the people managing a business run into an incident when “the people” have no clue what they want. Indecision and rash overreaction define these abuse cases, because Roger Goodell made most of his decisions in response to the public outcry made against these men.
Instead of helping these men, Goodell squandered an opportunity to get his players the help that they needed, to positively raise awareness about a uncomfortable subject, and to make the National Football League the prototype in the handling of delicate subjects. He acquiesced to the demands of special interest groups rather than leading the league through the tough choices. Groups like Women Against Domestic Violence have their own agenda. They want violence against women to stop at any cost, and a public mistake like that of Ray Rice incident is the perfect vehicle for that cause. Rice put an ugly face on the act of domestic violence. Any person who watched that video knows that what he did was wrong, but both Rice and Goodell mishandled the situation. Rice should have never put himself in a position to be publicly scrutinized by hitting his wife, however Goodell allowed him to become the scapegoat for a league-wide problem. Domestic abuse and a litany of other violent crimes has plagued the National Football League for years. The more detrimental mistake that the commissioner made was fighting to protect the appearance of the league by burying bad press instead of working to fix the problem proactively. Goodell should have forced Rice and his wife into counseling, suspended him for the amount of games that he was originally penalized without pay, and made a public statement about his decision not to further punish Rice. People want justice, but more so, they want leadership that bends at their every righteous whim. The right decision would have been following through with the sanctioned punishment, publicly speaking about the incident, and working on a more just and appropriate discipline in the off season for future cases. People want sound leadership and they want to be entertained. Entertainment is the reason that smut peddling engines like TMZ can break stories about the personal troubles of NFL stars. Entertainment is the reason that people watch the NFL. But, people also need to be shielded from their own biases and the effect that those biases have on others.
What Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson did in their respective lives is their business. What they do on the football field is the business of the public. No person should be subjected to the type of scrutiny that these two men faced in lieu of their violent, abusive actions. Because of the public outcry made by patrons of the NFL and the subsequent overreaction of the commissioner, Rice and Peterson have no way of supporting their families which puts more stress on the strained relationships between them and their loved ones, making them more likely to hurt the ones closest to them if these incidents are cases of systemic abuse. By removing these players from their NFL teams they are being severed from the game of football, their personal solace, alienated from their teammates and friends, and separated from their means to get help. The personal loss of the athletes is a precursor to the recreational deprivation of football fans. Teams are robbed of their best players and have to put an inferior product on the field which ultimately hurts the fans. Nobody wins in a witch hunt. Everyone loses something when self-righteousness supersedes practicality whether it be a player’s job or a football fan’s 2 hour reprieve from their daily life.