Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken
The NFL provides an amazing display of athletic ability and a nail-biting level of competition at an extremely high pace. Few sports moments can vie with watching a last minute pass launch out of the hand of your quarterback and sail with a pristine spiral down the field, only to fall gently onto the fingertips of a receiver, his arms outstretched, mere inches above the hands of a cornerback. The receiver falls into the end zone and you hold your breath, praying the football stays in his arms. There are so many appealing aspects to the game – the tradition, the rivalries, the balance of offence and defense. Unfortunately, I have grown so disenchanted with the NFL that I only watched part of one game last year.
My first issue with the NFL is its endorsement by the government. Just as with Major League Baseball, the NFL has been given antitrust exemptions. While some challenges have shown some chinks in the armor of the leagues (the Supreme Court supposedly views the NFL as a cartel of 32 independent businesses which are subject to antitrust laws), the national television contracts and immense popular support have already ensured the continued success of the league.
But other issues are beginning to nag at the NFL. For example, the concussion issue has been in the forefront of the news lately. After his suicide in May of last year, linebacker Junior Seau’s brain was examined and found to show symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which has been linked to repetitive head trauma. The NFL has been under fire for years from past players, but recent progress in the study of brain injuries and high profile cases like Seau’s have brought the issue to the fore. In fact, the NFL has attempted to settle a lawsuit with players who suffer concussion-related injuries. The most recent settlement figure suggested by the NFL is $675 million. In recent seasons, the NFL has also implemented rule changes to lower the chance of concussion- causing hits. In an imitation of government style leadership, the NFL does not appear to be considering rule changes (in fact, they rejected the idea in late 2012/early 2013) like eliminating kickoff returns (which create a melee-like environment and a greater opportunity for a big hit) because of the perception that this would make the game like flag football. One begins to wonder if anyone is even bothering to study whether lower impact (below concussion-grade) hits have a cumulative effect on brain health.
The NFL fails in even more ridiculous ways. Not to be outdone by the TSA, last season the NFL implemented ridiculous security measures at all of its games. Fear-mongering and propaganda. Related to this endorsement of security theater is the constant worship of the military found at each NFL game. This continues despite the lies and cover-up surrounding NFL player-turned-US Army soldier Pat Tillman’s death.
In addition to this, there are a whole host of economic issues surrounding the NFL, whether it is the league’s version of regulation (as embodied in salary caps) or their proud partnership with the NFL Players
Finally, the NFL is considering the creation of a rule that penalizes the use of the ‘n word’ (and possibly other slurs) with a 15-yard penalty. While there are many issues with the enforcement of this rule – determining the player who used the slur, deciding which of the many other slurs can be penalized in the same way, et cetera – my primary frustration is with the very idea of the rule itself. I have heard the arguments from John Wooten and Brian Dawkins that the word should be eliminated and I completely agree. As a result, I choose to not use the word. However, I hear the argument from Jason McCourty and Richard Sherman that the word is in common usage among African-American players. How can the league tell these young men they are not allowed to use the word; not allowed to take ownership of the word? What if taking ownership of that word is helping them to deal with racism they have faced in their lives? How can the league pretend to know how or why a player is using the word? The simple answer is that they cannot know. There is no doubt this is a monumental case of overreach by the NFL. Maybe the NFL can set up free speech zones on the sidelines. They could go there to celebrate touchdowns, too.