I’ve been chewing on this subject for a while. I’m sure you don’t want to hear what I’m about to say, but it’s true. Don’t blame me for bringing it to your attention. Let me be clear however, this is not a debate on whether Ray Rice should be suspended indefinitely from the NFL or whether Adrian Peterson should be either. It’s a debate on how we view, in many cases these young men and how we can help prevent this behavior in the future.
For whatever reason our society has placed a premium on athletic ability and have decided to compensate it handsomely. This, in itself, does not present a problem. However, we do more than just pay these men huge sums of money to play a violent game. We expect them to be more. We expect them to be everything we wish we could be and everything we could ever dream of. We expect them to be role models. We expect too much.
I’ve worked in the NFL and the NBA and I’m here to tell you that there are players that I would regard as some of the highest quality individuals that I’ve ever met. Others, not so much. I suspect you have had similar experiences with co-workers or peers in your everyday life.
These men are human. There are not many guarantees in life, taxes, death, but here’s another: when you expect a human to be perfect, you’ll be disappointed every single time. This will never fail. You may be shocked to learn this but for many of these players, the only thing they can do in life better than you is play their respective sport. These men are no different then you and me, they just happen to be blessed with innate athletic skills and for many a competitive edge that few possess in any field.
So why do we expect them not to act like the rest of society? Do you think domestic violence is exclusive to the NFL? Do you think disciplining children violently is only done by All-Pro running backs? I think you know the answer.
This is a cultural problem…and the culture is not the NFL. I could tell you stories that would make your stomach turn about how some of these guys grew up. I’ve never hit a woman, would never hit a woman and it’s never occurred to me to even think about hitting my children with a tree branch. I suspect Rice and Peterson witnessed both of the heinous acts that they both performed during adolescence. It’s been noted that Peterson was whipped with electrical extension chords as a child.
Does this condone their behavior? God no. It’s horrible and should be punished. The point is these guys didn’t learn this from hearing about Walter Payton or Barry Sanders beating their fiancee or child, they learned it from watching those close to them.
So should the commissioner of a league be responsible for every player’s behavior. What does it say that we wan’t these players to be extremely violent every Sunday but church boys the other six days of the week? Folks, it doesn’t work that way.
We all complain about these rule changes in the NFL, targeting, head shots, yet it’s been proven time and time again that these men will almost certainly find death at an early age or suffer from some sort of mental disorder or brain damage if the game did not make any changes. We don’t care.
We justify this to ourselves as fans because they are well paid (though the ones suffering the most today were not THAT well paid). It’s part of the game, we all say, these guys make a lot of money and when they retire from the NFL, we don’t give them a second thought. Meanwhile a third go bankrupt within months of leaving the league and the average career is less than 5 years. Imagine being told you’ll never work again in what you do best….in your mid-20’s.
Can I ask you to look in the mirror? Can I ask myself? Personal accountability isn’t exactly a fad right now. Whether it be the government blaming each side for an impasse or you and me giving a hard time to a stock guru on TV who made a bad call. At a certain point, you and I are responsible.
We let these men grow up and harbor a culture that promotes violence. Some of these young men are worshipped from the time they start scoring touchdowns in high school. No one ever questions the manner in which one becomes an elite athlete, we just want to watch and hold other’s responsible when it doesn’t all go to plan.
This is an opportunity for everyone. An opportunity to teach our children right from wrong, that winning while important, does not need to come at the cost of another’s pain. More importantly, let’s realize that idol worship is dangerous and treating someone their whole life as untouchable or above the law can have SERIOUS consequences, not just for them but for those around them.
Retrospectively it appears as though the league doesn’t care about off-the-field issues. I can tell you for certain that’s not the case. I can also agree that the league screwed up, as did the police, as did the team in the Rice case.
Could Roger Goodell have done more? Of course. We could have too.