Saturday, February 22, 2014

Enough is Enough

Long time readers of this blog know that this is a law-free zone.   I have my day job, which involves practicing law, and then I have my avocations, which have nothing to do with practicing law.  So show me the courtesy of NOT assuming that I am judging the guilt or innocence of a particular individual in what I have to say below.  I am merely addressing an epidemic: the scourge of sickening and frequently criminal conduct on the part of NFL players.   The situation has reached the point where football fans and even non-fans need to start paying attention and weighing in.  

In recent weeks, we have been treated to two more reports of woman abuse on the part of NFL stars.  
One involved a recently retired player who was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department on two counts of rape.  Another involves a report of a current star player with the Baltimore Ravens who is alleged to have beaten his fiancée with his hand to the point where she was rendered unconscious.  According to public reports, the police have a video tape of the incident, which occurred in Atlantic City.  While that tape hasn’t been released to the public, we have been able to view a second tape of the player dragging a woman out of an elevator (the scene of the alleged assault) and dropping her face first on the ground.  It is almost as sickening as the experience of listening to “sports journalists” discuss the situation.   They talk about how this player is likely to get the same kind of punishment that others have received when the league is presented with evidence of an assault by a player.  You know exactly what that means: they might miss a small fraction of a season, but that’s it.   NFL players are too valuable on the field for the league to concern itself very much with what they do off of it.   

Assaults – sexual and otherwise – by NFL players have become commonplace, much like arrests for illegal possession of firearms or driving while intoxicated.   The media will report on these incidents, but it rarely makes them an object of focus.  It’s almost as if we expect football players to engage in criminal activity.   Just consider the following, which details the various arrests of NFL players during the last few years, and note also that these are simply current players who are being arrested, not the former players who are getting in trouble at an alarming rate, thanks to all the abuse their own bodies have taken during the years on the gridiron:

The NFL has been called the “No Fun League” because of its tendency to punish trivial conduct.  It has penalized teams for inappropriate touchdown celebrations, by which the league would include using props, lying on the ground and making snow angel motions, and dancing with other players.  It has fined players for wearing the wrong color chin straps or socks.  And its executives love to wax eloquent about how much they care about their players’ safety, notwithstanding the fact that for decades the league treated concussions like I treat hangnails.  I applaud the increased scrutiny that the league has given to concussions in the past few years.  But when you think about it, as much as the league has a duty to its players to minimize the health hazards they are facing, it has an even greater duty to the community at large to root out the epidemic of criminality on the part of these players.  

After all, when a guy goes into the NFL, he assumes a certain risk that he will destroy his body and perhaps even his mind.  But the same cannot be said for the women who are assaulted by NFL players or the motorists who happen to encounter one of these players after a night of heavy drinking.   From the standpoint of professional football, these innocent victims are mere collateral damage – the eggs one has to crack to make the omelet on which red-blooded Americans like me have come to depend.  From the standpoint of society, however, the prevalence of these victims is a reminder that professional football is like an industry with a pollution problem – it makes big bucks, while imposing on the public all sorts of hidden costs.   Which is worse, bathing in a river that has been spoiled by black soot?  Or being knocked unconscious in an elevator, or drugged and then raped at a party?   Pick your poison.

Last year, the Commissioner of the NFL earned literally dozens of millions of dollars presiding over a game in which large men routinely collide with each other at top speeds.  To be able to engage in that kind of activity, those men have got to turn themselves into maniacs, at least between the white lines.  The league knows that all too well.  And it also must know that it has the power to set limits to this craziness so that the damage is confined to the field.  If it chose to do so, the NFL could take a line in the sand and proclaim that whenever a player is alleged to have engaged in off-the-field activities that threaten the health or safety of “civilians,” it will robustly investigate the allegation and terminate – not suspend, but terminate -- the player’s privilege to play NFL football if he is found to have committed the violation.  In short, the league could take a firm no-tolerance stand toward certain types of criminal activity, including woman-abuse.

Personally, I have no confidence whatsoever that the league will take that stand.  It doesn’t want the hassle of litigating with players whose livelihoods are at risk if they are kicked out of the league.   But from my standpoint, enough is enough.  I’m sick of watching football games where guys who punch women are going up against other guys who rape women.  I’m sick of having to cheer for these animals.  

Take a look at the list of arrests that I included above.  Do you find that acceptable?  If not, isn’t it incumbent on us fans to let the league know our thoughts?  I’d personally feel better about having less talented players on the field if it meant that we would be getting more gentlemanly players off of it.  And if terminating their right to play in the league means that the NFL would get embroiled in litigation and have to raise ticket prices, so be it.  The league must do what needs to be done.   I don’t want it on my conscious that by supporting a violent game, I’m contributing to a violent society.

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