Friday, November 06, 2015

Another Horrible Mistake by the NFL

Most people don't remember this, but in 1976, when the first Rocky was released, the most popular sport in the world was boxing. It commanded monstrous ratings in both television and radio, and its leading figure, Muhammad Ali, was the most recognized and popular athlete in the world. Forty years later, movie buffs still rave about Rocky, but boxing has long since been relegated to the sidelines. Deaths. Concussions. Stars reduced to shadows of themselves due to the nature of the sport. For most of the 20th Century, prize fighting held few peers in popularity.

And then it didn't.

It will never hold the sway it once did, though someone like Mayweather can still command millions for a fight. (Even if he's a giant douchebag) He is the exception, though. Boxing will never be what it once was because of the nature of the sport. It's two people literally trying to pound each other's brain. Morally, how do you excuse that. Further, would you encourage your son or daughter to box?

The NFL has ridden the rising tide of sports and their increased value for advertisers over the past twenty years to new heights. The most popular TV show for the past four years is Sunday Night Football. NBC pays a staggering $1B a year for the rights to a single game per week. One. Game.

And at least partly due to the violent nature of the sport, the NFL has been forced to reconcile with former players and concussions and basically the human scraps that are left behind when a player retires. They've handled that poorly, as anyone who follows the industry knows.

Worse, however, has been the way they have handled the rising wave of domestic violence among its players. (You could make the argument that things are simply more visible now, but we can't be certain of that, so it remains speculative.)

Last year, Ray Rice was caught on camera slugging his wife and knocking her out cold. Commissioner Goodell, who'd only suspended Rice for two games, suspended him indefinitely when the tape was released to the public, claiming he hadn't seen it.

If only Rice hadn't been at the end of his career and could still rush the quarterback?

Today, Deadspin released photos of the former girlfriend of Cowboys' defensive end, Greg Hardy. (They are graphic) Her entire body is a series of bruises. The NFL knew about this last year, had seen the pictures last year, and suspended Hardy for four games.

The Panthers released him, but the Cowboys got the elite pass rusher on a team friendly deal, because a number of clubs simply refused to pick him up. And rightly so. Even if the most calloused misogynist who doesn't give a rat's ass about women will tell you that guys like Hardy are a PR nightmare.

Not for the Cowboys. Their irascible owner, Jerry Jones, went so far as to call him a leader.

A leader.

You can't make this shit up. I write fiction, and I would have a hard time writing a character like that,, because no one would believe it. (For the record, if you beat up women and threaten to kill them, you're not a leader, you're a ______. Yeah, I'll let you fill it in.)

Here's the thing. The NFL is riding high right now, as it has the past two decades. But things are starting to coalesce. Between the increased knowledge of concussions, the suicides of former players, The increased visibility and rampant nature of domestic violence cases and other off-field issues, the grime is starting to leak through the cracks.

Most people won't see it. They'll see the shiny new car with a hot blonde singing the introduction and the fireworks and the money. So much money. They won't care that kids enrollment in youth football is down. Or that a number of pros refuse to let their own kids play the sport. They won't see it, the way we didn't see the end to boxing dominance.

The NFL can hardly control the problem with concussions, with the exception of a few minor tweaks. The nature of the sport is to pound the human next to them. But domestic violence? Guns? Murder? This they can control. But by allowing an owner to sign a player simply because that player hads talent, even if he's a terrible human, with no regard for the impact on society, is a huge mistake.

They won't pay for it this year or next, but a reckoning is coming. The NFL may be dominant now, as boxing was, and then it won't.

And they won't even have a movie to commemorate the downfall.


NOTE: In the Deadspin article, the author claims we "can't" know what happened. Yes, actually, we can and we do. That kind of bullshit, that unless you have video evidence, means you can't be "sure" is another example of misogyny. At some point, society needs to protect women. Right now, we're doing a damn poor job of it.