I’m sorry to be so blunt but, I’m just going to come out and say it. I think we should start seeing other people.
I know what you’re thinking. But, given our long history together, we both know this is best. I will always have fond memories of my dad and I watching the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day together. I didn’t understand your game at the time, but it didn’t matter. You gave me something I could use to connect with my dad. You see, I didn’t like working on cars, and he was a mechanic. They were too loud, too dirty, and too smelly for me. And, he didn’t understand my pretending to be Underdog and running through the house like a superhero.
You gave us a bond. You gave us common ground. You, NFL, were to my father, like that moment in “My Left Foot” when the boy writes in chalk on the floor with his foot, and his father finally acknowledges him as a person…as a son. When I started watching and asking questions and then recognizing players, it was like this:
Yes, NFL, I know you were there. And, yes, you know that I’m over-exaggerating the point a bit. My dad wasn’t that bad. But, the point remains. From a very young age, you have been a very important part of my life. In my angst-filled teenage years, you were the one thing we could talk about when nothing else could be said.
When I entered the 7th grade, I started playing football. I never felt closer to my dad than when I strapped on my war bonnet and took the field. We would drive to and from two-a-days and he understood the pain. He understood the fact that I needed to take a nap in between workouts. He never asked me to mow the yard on a workout day. He was compassionate in a way I hadn’t seen before. And when he opened up and started talking about the years he played 6 man football (his school didn’t have enough guys to fill out an 11 man team), I was in heaven. In those brief moments, he talked to me like a peer. There was a camaraderie there that I imagined only existed between those who have looked into the eyes of an opponent lined up opposite you and you both know that when the center snaps the ball, you are going to try to hurt each other.
Yes, we were two warriors, one a young upstart, the other a seasoned officer, talking battle. And it was glorious. Did you know that I wanted to play for you when I grew up, NFL? Yep, it’s true. You see, this is where I made a huge mistake in our early relationship…I equated my love of football with you.
All those years, I thought I was loving you when, in fact, I was loving football. I was unable to make a distinction. YOU were football. Football was YOU. And that’s the mistaken idea I carried with me for years.
That is, until about 15 years ago. Yes, I began dabbling. You see, I loved you so much, and you were only able to give me my fix on Sundays and Monday night. During the football season, there was so much wasted time that I couldn’t see you. There was no real internet I could go on to peruse stats and facts to tide me over. So, I started watching the occasional NCAA game.
I should be able to look back and see the writing on the wall. The warning signs were all there. I found myself watching retrospectives about your famous players of old. These gods sat on camera and talked about the ‘good old days’ while endless clips of them destroying opponents played behind their voices. I watched as player after player ate turf. I watched as men crumpled under the force of being hit by a man-sized Mack Truck. I remember thinking, “Thank God they are wearing those pads! Otherwise, they wouldn’t be around to do these interviews.”
Then, one day I watched a retrospective that wasn’t the same as the rest of them had been. The happy lilting music was replaced with something a little darker. Then, they showed players who hadn’t been highlighted before. I was horrified to find out why. These films weren’t made by YOU. Also, these guys were largely broke, broken, homeless, dying or dead. I was more than willing to ignore Lyle Alzado and his death (which he attributed to his rampant steroid use). I ignored it because he was one guy. He chose to use the juice. He rode the lightning and got burned. But, there just seemed to be a lot of guys who gave the impression that you just used them up and then tossed them aside when they no longer served your purposes.
But by looking at your seedy underbelly, it ruined the shiny exterior. It tainted you. So, like most people, I ignored the warnings. I kept buying your tickets, jerseys, and watching your games, reading your website, and even considered paying for a subscription to your TV channel. All the while, I delighted in the huge runs, the massive hits, the acrobatics on the sidelines as someone tried desperately to stay in bounds, and, yes even the career-ending tackles that proved these gods were mortals.
And while I danced along in football induced bliss, I started noticing something. I started hearing about guys who retired from you, only to live a life of daily chronic pain. Then, I heard the cries of former players, guys I grew up watching, guys who were invincible, suddenly reduced to debilitating migraines, violent outbursts, and even one guy who forgot that he ever played ball to begin with.
I noticed my feelings toward you changing. I no longer reveled in the battle on the front lines like I used to. Why? Because, you lied. You lied to your players, coaches, and fans. But, then your commissioner said he wanted to get to the bottom of things. And I started watching again. And things were getting better. You were devoting money to developing new helmets and pads to protect these guys.
Then, some dude punched his fiancee in an elevator and knocked her out cold. Yes, we all know it was Ray Rice now. And, yes, I know you’re tired of hearing about him. But, I haven’t really talked about him and more importantly how it affected me. You see, I grew up in an abusive home. It wasn’t always bad. I didn’t get beaten daily. But it was at least once a week. So, when I watched this guy straight up brutalize this woman, I hoped you would come to her rescue. Because, NFL, you have the power to. Instead, what I got was her apologizing on Twitter for her involvement. And you passed out a paltry two game suspension.
Yes, NFL, I know told me that you hadn’t seen the full video when you passed down your punishment. But, you lied so vociferously about concussions and brain injury, that I’m not sure I believe you anymore. You see, like an abuser, you too have done what it took to keep someone from leaving. Your efforts thusfar come across like the man crying and telling his beaten wife, “I’m sorry. I’m going to change. I love you. Please, don’t go. I’ll change. I promise.”
And you do change…until no one is looking or we get lulled into a false sense of confidence, then it’s back to the status quo. You see, after Ray Rice, you stepped in and changed the rules. That was a good start. But, then Adrian Peterson gets arrested for beating the ever-loving shit out of a 4 yr old. And another player broke his wife’s nose because she wouldn’t have sex with him.
Yes, these are just a few bad apples. I get that. But, what’s bothering me NFL is this: Your silence is now speaking louder than your previous actions.
So, it’s with a heavy heart that I have to say that, for now, I think it’s best if we part ways.
But, please, don’t think this is a permanent parting. You see, you DO have the power to fix things. You could own up to your past misgivings. You could apologize. You could then move forward to fix things. You could tell the teams, “Here are the minimum mandatory punishments to be handed down for players, coaches, or even owners who run afoul of the law. And, if these minimums aren’t met, you could lose your ability to be affiliated with the NFL.”
You see, having a team in the NFL isn’t a right…it’s a privilege. And, as such, you are in a unique position to be the hero in this story. Instead, there are teams that are doing it better than you are. And it leaves no parity in punishments. Just perusing this NFL Arrest Database shows that the punishments don’t always fit the crime. One guy gets convicted of a third degree felony assault on a police officer, gets time in jail and probation, breaks his probation and goes back to jail (all of this in the off-season) and he’s not suspended by the league, he misses no games. And some guys get suspended for 1-4 games for minor drug charged, DUI’s and the like. There’s no parity here.
Basically, it tells me, the fan, that you don’t really care what your players are doing as long as it’s in the off-season. You only step in when it’s during the season or people are crying out about it. And make no mistake about it…these are YOUR players. And as long as they are under contract, they are your ambassadors. And when you stay silent…it makes me very wary.
You see, like I said before, I’ve been the victim of abuse in the past. I’ve also lived in a house where domestic violence was very real. And, as a small boy who watched his mother get beaten, threatened, and domineered by her husband…I can’t wish that on ANYONE. Then, later, as a boy getting whipped ‘until I cried’, all I wanted was for SOMEONE to step in and make the hitting stop. I was afraid to speak out about it for fear of nothing happening, and the whippings to continue or get worse.
So, NFL, until you decide to be the organization that steps in, takes the hero role, and starts speaking up for the abused spouses, spouses-to-be, and children of the people in your organization, I cannot support you.
I realize there will always be fans who continue to support you. And that’s fine. I realize that I’m coming from a very different place than they are. I don’t judge them for wanting to watch. But, as a father of two young boys…I just can’t. Not right now. Not until you get your act together and do something. ANYTHING.
Goodbye NFL. We had a good run. But, for now, for me, it’s over. I still love the game. I just don’t love you.