Thursday, August 13, 2009

Goodbye, NFL

Poor Stanley Wilson-- he was born 20 years too early.

Wilson was a tough, talented fullback for the Cincinnati Bengals during the late 1980s. He was less than 24 hours away from playing in the biggest game of his life, Super Bowl XXIII, when he got caught by one of his own coaches in the midst of a little cocaine binge. Wilson was benched by his head coach and subsequently banned from the NFL (three-strikes and you're out, this was Stanley's third strike). The Bengals needed him to win the game and coach Sam Wyche, decided that Wilson disqualified himself when he broke his word to keep clean. The Bengals went on to lose the game by the closest of margins. Coach Wyche never second-guessed his decision publicly. That was the NFL I grew up with- and it no longer exists.

Well, I'm banning the NFL until further notice. Why? I actively dislike so many of the players that watching them week in and week out has become a joyless experience. Just a glance at the top 3 headlines on ESPN.com's football section says it all: Dog-killer Michael Vick signs a 2-year, $6.8 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, human-killer Donte Stallworth, who committed a little vehicular manslaughter while drunk, is not allowed to play football in 2009 but can come back in 2010 if he likes, and wide receiver Brandon Marshall is set to go to trial for beating the shit out of his girlfriend because she received a text from a male friend. I expect Marshall to be given a $2 million bonus by the Broncos for not killing her. And as for Stallworth, even the court system loves the NFL because they only saw fit to give him 30 days jail time for drunkenly killing a man with his car. The jury must have been packed with Browns fans.

So, while Stanley Wilson was banned for life for a drug habit that arguably didn't hurt anyone but himself, today's players can abuse, maim and kill their way to a temporary suspension at worst. Stop and think about this for a second: why are these players, who you would no sooner befriend let alone admire in any other instance, being treated so well? As the poet Puff Daddy once wrote: it's all about the Benjamins.

The NFL has become 90% marketing and 10% other in its composition over the years. And with such a lucrative marketing position to maintain, the league is shameless in protecting its own. Banning players is bad marketing. Banning players makes people pay attention. So, the league has chosen to avoid such unpleasantness by keeping things light- suspending players is a less dire situation. Careers aren't ruined by a suspension- they're merely put on hold until the dust settles. Suspending players is a shot at redemption, and in our culture nothing makes a heart tingle more than a comeback story, right? And suspending players has a dulling effect on stories- there's no drama to a suspension, only a mild degree of tension. The only drama that comes out of suspensions nowadays is, from the fan perspective, being able to predict how many games a player will be suspended from for a given offense. Well, let's see, he was driving drunk but he only hit a tree, so... I predict 3 games! I think Vegas will take that bet if you ask.

Look, I'm not a moral compass for anyone, believe me. And I don't expect the NFL to be a moral beacon for the human race. But there has got to be a time when people look around and ask "What are we doing?" Things have gone out of control. And the NFL works very hard at making you think everything's cool. Well, I think the league may have been too successful in their efforts- last Winter, Plaxico Burress (a player I once-admired) carried a loaded gun into a public place (on purpose) and shot himself in the leg (by accident). And then another teammate, someone I also once-admired, tried to help cover up the whole thing by hiding the gun and obstructing justice. I listened to the sports radio guys and callers and a lot of people defended the teammate for "looking out for his own." Are you fucking kidding me? A majority of sports fans and commentators actually bought into that statement. If these were Congressmen we were talking about or Wall St. bankers, I doubt they would have been afforded the same amount of moral flexibility by the callers. So, why the double-standard? The NFL has made its fans dependent on its product. If fans reject the players, do they cease being fans? Ah, yes- welcome to my world.

If you still enjoy the NFL, more power to you. You're not on the "wrong side" of anything for finding pleasure in the game. I too will always love the game. But as I've gotten older, I've found myself thinking more about how I spend my time. And spending hours watching people I dislike makes me feel like an chump. The game I loved as a kid doesn't exist today. Change is inevitable and it's time I find other pursuits- it's time to put away childish things.

16 comments:

Granny Annie said...

Adam, this is excellent! I am not a sports fan (unless my grandchildren are on the field) but I watched Michael Vick signing his new contract and I sat in amazement at what was taking place. I believe in this post you have said it for old befuddled people like me and for regular sports fans and for all who did not have the "Benjamins" to buy their way out of a legal hassel and/or criminal act. May I have your permission to link to this post on my blog?

Adam said...

Thank you, Annie. I would be honored by your sharing this with your readers.

Ivan said...

I don't know anything about your NFL, but as I read the first part of this article, all I could think of was Kiefer Sutherland. You know, the on again off again alcoholic who was caught last year driving under the influence (a ticking time bomb if there ever was one), and not only did he get to choose when he would serve time, he still remains as popular as ever, glorified on TV as the biggest action badass ever and being nominated for awards. How's that different from those football players you mentioned?

Adam said...

There are similarities and differences between Kiefer and the players I mentioned.

Yes, they've all broken the law and they've endangered the lives of others. But Kiefer did his time. It is common among convicts to make an application to the court about their sentencing, especially if serving time would have a detrimental effect on others not involved in the criminal transaction. So, a cast and crew of law-abiding citizens should not suffer pecuniary loss for Kiefer's behavior if there's a chance to modify the timing of his sentence. That's completely within the court's discretion. And Kiefer did his time without any whining or plea for public sympathy.

The football players I mentioned have committed far more egregious acts (not that driving drunk isn't serious, but nobody got hurt or killed in Kiefer's instance). I'm talking about the most obscene examples of human depravity being given a slap on the wrists by a league that has the power to do far more to protect the integrity of the game. There's a disturbing trend in this society re: professional athletes that I have a hard time ignoring. That was the point of this blog post.

Hit 40 said...

Your post is a great summation of some heinous acts that are swept under the rug. They fire teachers for less!! The NFL should adopt similar rules as they have for teachers. It's zero tolerance with no second chances. These men are role models that show that it is ok to do drugs and beat up on others.

Tabor said...

I gave up on NFL a number of years ago (although surround by a family of addicts to the league) because there was too much money and too many drugs driving the game.

Mary said...

Dropped over from Annie's. This type of thing makes me sick. Money talks and it's really sad that the world has come to this. I used to watch all kinds of sports but not anymore. These guys think they are untouchable and there are different laws for different classes, for sure.

Granny Annie said...

I need to jump back in and say this is about the NFL. Kiefer Sutherland is on TV after the family hour and there are disclaimers for violence so it is not recommended for children. We set the NFL players up as "heros" for our children. How did we ever start calling athletes "heros"? Heros are our military, our police and our fire fighters. People who save lives are heros not who makes the most money.

Winifred said...

I've just popped over from Annie's too.

At first I thought, "I don't know anything about baseball" but as I read on I realised that what you've said isn't not just relevant to baseball. We have similar problems here in the UK mainly with football players. They don't get away with things as easily as they seem to in the USA. They do get prosecuted and they get fined by clubs for certain misdemeanours. However in some cases they do get to play again. The fines however are just a drop in the ocean to them because their wages are so outrageously high. I think like you why do people want to watch such thugs? What kind of role models are they for young people?

In the UK I have to ask since when did our football players become worth so much more than our swimmers, athletes and cricketers? Like in the USA when big money and marketing took over.

A case in point is David Beckham, the England footballer. He's no criminal and as far as I know is an honest bloke. However he earns mammoth, obscene amounts of money but what has he achieved football wise? Not a thing compared to our football legends like Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst etc. (The names won't mean anything to people outside the UK). They didn't earn anything like the cash these footballers earn today, however they are respected and loved for the gentlemen they were. They played because they loved the game. Sadly we'll never see their like again! That's probably the same worldwide for most of the games where money does the talking.

kenju said...

Granny Annie sent me, and I think your post is excellent. I think if Paul Tagliabue were still the commissioner, Vick would never have gotten back into the NFL.

Adam said...

Thank you all for your comments. I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts on this topic. I see I've struck a chord, which is encouraging.

Bonnie said...

I came here by way of Granny Annie. I am not much of a football fan, but I thoroughly agree with your view. I am apalled at how the public just ignores what goes on with these players and the league. I couldn't believe a team signed Vick and I have to admit I didn't know about the other two stories. Shows what kind of society we have become and it is scary.

Rickey Henderson said...

Great post. You make a very good point about the media loving a comeback story. Yet nobody in the business actually stops to ask themselves if these people DESERVE that chance. When somebody like Donte Stallworth or Michael Vick do something that deplorable, we need to ask ourselves: do people really change? Perhaps they've served their time in prison, but do they deserve a second chance to pursue such a high profile public career? I say no. Ban the fuckers. Just for once let's see principles trump profits.

One last point... Just to put this all in perspective... While what Vick torturing those dogs did was despicable, I would remind you that the people who authorized the abuse and torture of human beings in Gitmo still have yet to be brought to justice. Worth mentioning.

Adam said...

Thanks, Rickey. It goes without saying that a society that condones through silence or vocal approval any injustice eventually "owns" the consequences of such approval.

"24" has spent a lot of time considering the consequences of interrogation and torture. So, it is topical in that sense to this blog. But I want to keep the discussion on point with the NFL, which is a leisure activity millions of people choose to follow amidst some of the things I've discussed. The GITMO issue would make for another worthy article, however.

Rickey Henderson said...

Aw, but I was just about to segway into healthcare...

You know what the worst part about this Vick thing is? I'm positive there's a young quarterback out there somewhere with grit and guts that the Eagles could have gotten instead of Vick. He did a bad thing, he was punished by our laws--but the NFL owes him nothing, and neither does society.

Ivan said...

sorry, this is going to be way off topic

Have you seen District 9? I gotta wait another stupid month till it opens here! Was it as good as I read everywhere?

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