If you are one of the 10 people reading this (and that’s a stretch!), then you know I’ve always been a die-hard Cleveland sports fan ever since I was born in the 216. I don’t think there are many things in life that create as much excitement, builds city camaraderie and allows families to spend quality time together quite like the NFL.
But with the recent case of violence and physical abuse allegations involving NFL players – Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald…I can’t help but be disheartened with the time, emotions and money (including my taxes to fund stadiums!) I fork over to the sport year after year given how badly the image of the sport has been tarnished for me. I get that not all players are wife or child beaters, and I’m sure most of them are normal people, with super freak athletic abilities. Even if there is the occasional asshole, that’s ok, it comes with the territory. But with the dominance of NFL news focusing on the latest player being arrested for something much more severe than amphetamines or drugs, I think some would agree that professional sports may be morphing from a ridiculously lucrative business into a soulless machine built on greed and egos that enables shocking behavior. So what are the risks as professional sports continues to spins out of control?
We place professional athletes on pedestals because they possess god given talents. Our youth idolize their favorite players into heroes and role models. As a ten year old tomboy, I had a Cleveland Browns pennant hanging above my bed for years. I proudly showed my Dad the number #19 I carefully drew on it with permanent black market and didn’t take it down for many years after my ‘most favorite athlete in the whole wide world’ retired. I’m sure I would have been heartbroken if my Dad told me that Bernie went to jail for knocking out his wife or confused if I saw him playing football on Sunday, right after hearing on the news that he had been arrested for beating his pregnant wife. Would that have stopped me from cheering my Browns every Sunday? No, probably not. Would I have asked my Dad to explain why Bernie was in trouble? No, probably not. Either way, the situation might have unconsciously impressed upon me that a man abusing his family is bad but as long as you say you’re sorry (in as insincere as a manner as humanly possible), you MIGHT be punished by missing a few games, or not, and then everything returns to normal.
Remember when the MLB was going through its own PR crisis? During the Great Race of ’98 and then Barry Bonds HR record setting season, we learned that baseball’s success ratings were catalzyed by the rampant use of steroids. Congress summoned Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire and other stars to testify regarding use of performance enhancing drugs. There was tremendous attention and outrage, endless hours of dedicated television reports and hundreds of articles written. Now when a baseball player is suspended for PEDs, do you bother to read past the headline or is your interest peaked? (Me? I didn’t bother to pay attention to the ARod ‘breaking news’ story…yawn).
My point is…Are we or our kids at risk of becoming desensitized to immoral behavior that entails cheating, drug use, physical violence, etc…and potentially at danger of not emotionally responding to future realities of domestic abuse, child endangerment and perhaps even murder?
Some other thoughts…
1. Take the video down. The video of Janae Palmer is being sensationalized. It no longer serves any purpose other than entertaining people who want to watch an incredibly strong man strike his fiancee in the face so hard that she passes out then drags her out like a piece of luggage. The video should be taken down and links removed from espn.com, sports illustrated, etc.
2. Did anyone pick up the body language? As many people have noted, Ray Rice showed no remorse during his first press conference. However, notice his body language before he even spoke a word. Watch as he walked into the press room, in front of his fiancee. He didn’t escort her to her seat, didn’t wait for her to sit down before he sat himself, didn’t look over at her. These actions coming from a man that..oh that’s right, he never apologized to her during the press conference.
3. First time he hit her? With the way Ray Rice responded to knocking her out, looking down at her as she lay unconscious on the floor without so much to see if she was ok, hold her, wake her up, anything!, and how quickly he came up with an excuse that she drank too much…how likely is it that this was the first time he employed violence in their relationship?
4. Violence causing violence? I wonder if the violence and consistent, head collisions in football are perhaps causing brain trauma in the players and a factor, not the cause, in the seemingly increasing cases of abuse and violence of football players?
5. Put a women in power. A woman with the appropriate background and experience can provide a different perspective and perhaps better judgement than a group comprised of similar-looking and thinking males. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need a women as commissioner but at least add a female voice on the Executive Committee, in a position to have influence. Certainly not all the men running the NFL, NBA and MLB played the sport as a professional but they have the power to make strategic and financial business decisions, including distribution of punishments for breaking the law or league policy. Women are just as capable of coming to sound decisions…
“Shares of companies with a market capitalization of more than $10 billion and with women board members outperformed comparable businesses with all-male boards by 26 percent worldwide over a period of six years” according to a study by Credit Suisse.
I think the term “outperforming” in this quote could be translated to the NFL as potentially avoiding the most embarrassing week in the history of the sport and applying wisdom rather than greed.
6. Don’t judge. I was talking to a co-worker about the Ray Rice suspension and how I felt horrible for Janay Palmer because the world was watching her being beaten. My co-worker made a comment to the effect that she didn’t have much brains to begin with, especially for staying with him after the fact. It’s easy to judge but we don’t know her family background, how she was raised, or if she feels trapped and helpless in a seemingly hopeless situation.
7. No excuse for Adrian Peterson. Everyone is raised differently and disciplined by their parents in their own. I was spanked as a kid and I know people that got the belt, but I never experienced bruises and lacerations up and down my body that lasted for days. AP is a 200+ pound man with an incredibly muscular physique, as are the other NFL players accused of abuse. Professional athletes train their bodies to harness immense strength and power. Whether they realize it or not, the physical impact of their actions on women and children, is tremendously powerful and when rooted by dark emotions, is destructive.
I hope that the moral compass of the NFL is steered in the right direction and I can again look forward to watching football on family Sundays with just the anticipation of heartbreak from another Browns loss, and nothing more serious than that.