Football Fans Skirting Ethical Concerns
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
The NFL coffers keep on keeping on, don't they? But the money increasingly feels like dirty money.
The latest news doesn't offer much of a ray of sunshine. A longtime poster boy for the league, linebacker Junior Seau took his own life amid the backdrop of Bountygate and the residual penalties -- suspensions for front-office personnel, coaches and players, which are unprecedented in team sports history.
What's so fascinating about the efforts of commissioner Roger Goodell is how, for the most part, the players seem to view him as the enemy, even though he is attempting to help them by imposing more strictly enforced safety measures.
While union members from all walks of life generally have good reason for their skepticism when their bosses want to help them, the actuarial tables don't lie. What they do is paint a pretty bleak picture for the post-playing career life expectancy for those chosen few "lucky" enough to make it in the NFL. So, while Goodell may, in large part, care about the safety of the players only to the extent that his efforts could limit liabilities in future ex-player lawsuits, at least he is fighting the good fight.
Last July, Michael Anft, who penned this month's PressBox cover story about Adam Jones, wrote a poignant cover story titled "Led To Slaughter," in which he fast-forwards quickly through the typical career of an NFL player. He portrays a predictable pattern for most players of quick money earned and burned, injuries galore and an ending that almost always comes before the player is situated financially.
The only good news, if you want to call it that, is that the bad times usually don't last too long. An average NFL player dies well before his non-playing relatives and friends. In fact, the average NFL lineman passes between the ages of 50 and 55, or close to 12-15 years sooner than skill players, who were not force-fed into morbid obesity.
The NFL suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton for a year for his part in the Bountygate scandal, and yet Payton had the audacity to appeal his suspension. At least former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had the good sense to take his punishment and, at least for now, just shut up. Perhaps he'll live to work another day in the NFL because he didn't stir an already messy pot.
Goodell also handed down suspensions to four current NFL players -- Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, for one full season; Saints defensive end Will Smith, for four games; Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, for three games; and Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, for eight games. Both Fujita and Hargrove are former Saints.
Last summer's Dave Duerson suicide shed light on how horrific chronic traumatic encephalopathy damage can be, and it came right in the middle of negotiations between the NFLPA and the NFL regarding new and more protective rules. Now Seau has killed himself with a gun, as the player penalties listed earlier were handed down.
One would think that out of some respect for Seau, the NFLPA would not challenge these suspensions, but that thinking is naïve at best. Of course the players and the NFLPA are filing appeals, on the near technicality that because these bounties took place before last summer's new collective bargaining agreement, the commissioner has no authority to levy the suspensions or be the person hearing the appeals.
The hypocrisy, here again, is the union that represents all current NFL players is supporting players the league has deemed guilty of attempting to injure other members of the same union. For what purpose? The bounties used as motivation to injure and maim their brethren amounted to chump change.
That is where this story turns to the people that cover the games; pay for the tickets; grease the engine of the NFL coffers by buying the hats, the jerseys, the T-shirts; and turn their heads in masses to watch the games on TV. At the same time, they avert their eyes and minds to their culpability in this monstrous machinery.
Recently, I was talking to someone that works in the physical therapy world and another that used to cover the NFL for a living. We were talking at length about the news of Seau's suicide and what we thought about the predictable reasons for him to take his own life.
Collectively, we concurred that our continued passion and support of an NFL that on one hand highly pays its players, yet offers such a small-percentage chance for these same players to come out whole at the end, was nothing short of watching a modern version of Christians being thrown to the lions.
Issue 173: May 2012