BY DIANE DIMOND
I’m not really an NFL fan, but I watch occasional games with my husband. I can take it or leave it, but I know there are millions of others who live breathe and eat the game. But why?
In the aftermath of yet another round of NFL scandals, I’ve been thinking about what the game of football, and the fallout from its disgraces, really says about us. I wonder what football’s influence has done to generations of America’s boys.
Kids as young as six suit up for Pee Wee league games and are taught that winning equals aggression and is rewarded with cheers and praise. Older boys who play football are the idolized the “big men on campus,” their heads often filled with dreams of playing for the pros. If their parents and coaches fail to instill real life lessons of good character along with the rules and strategies of the game, all the kid may come away with is the idea that violence is acceptable and steroids may be just the thing to help them achieve their dream.
Take the group of high school players in Sayreville, New Jersey, who became so pumped up on their own self-importance that they viciously set upon freshmen in their darkened locker room and then sexually attacked them. The boys called it hazing. The cops called it felony assault.
Criminal complaints against college football players happen nationwide. They range from public drunkenness to discharge of a firearm and sexual assault. There has been a scandal brewing at Florida State University where players have been accused of domestic violence, auto theft and rape among other charges. According to the New York Times, “Investigations have stalled, and players have escaped serious consequences.”
Coaches, police and judges frequently look the other way as player transgressions pile up. If and when punishment is meted out it often seems far more lenient than regular folks get.
These kids get the idea that just because they can play a ball game, they get to live life outside the law.
Indeed, the NFL players they watch on nationally televised games each week (now airing on Sunday, Monday and Thursdays) often seem to get away with thumbing their nose at the law.
Since 2000, dozens of NFL players have been arrested for drunk driving, and on at least three occasions people have died as a result.
Pro players have assaulted strangers, their lovers and even their children as seen in the recent case of Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, who bloodied his four-year-old with a wooden switch. Many fans seemed to buy the star running back’s excuse that he had only disciplined the child the way he had been disciplined as a boy. As if that made it OK. Pending felony child abuse charges apparently weren’t sobering enough for Peterson. He showed up for a court date and was forced to admit (right before a random drug test) that he had just smoked marijuana.
And everyone who follows the NFL knows that the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice dodged charges after he sucker-punched his fiance, knocking her like a noodle into an unconscious heap. Only after two damning videos surfaced and the public outcry became unbearable did the NFL Commissioner indefinitely suspended Rice from the game.
More recently, Joseph Randle of the Dallas Cowboys — a dude who earns $495,000 a year — was arrested for inexplicably shoplifting cologne and a package of underwear. The upshot? After quickly posting a small bond, his spin team cooked up a PR stunt with MeUndies, an underwear company that announced a deal in which the admitted thief would donate $15,000 worth of clothing to needy kids.
Are these players stupid, or do they simply believe there are no consequences?
The game of football can, of course, be a great tool to instill discipline and teamwork in young males. And the majority of NFL players are good and wholesome citizens. But what I worry about is that this billion-dollar-a-year industry has polluted our young males’ idea of what it is to be a man. I worry about the culture of professional football and how it has infused so many of us with the ability to look the other way and shrug when crimes occur.
Like I said, this will be blasphemous to some, but I hope it spurs some deep thought about what the game of football has wrought.
Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author, regular guest on TV news programs, and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net or reach her via email [email protected]