Guilt Trips Usually Reach No Destination
Many Americans like to watch football. They are not responsible for Adrian Peterson beating his children, nor for Ray Rice and the other players who have slugged or will slug women. That's on the people who commit the crimes.
Neither are fans responsible for the NFL and NFL teams' blithering incompetence in coping when players become a danger to the outside world as well as to each other. Customers aren't what cause mismanagement. Complacency bred of decades of success is part of why the NFL has been so bereft of either good judgment or moral sense, but popularity doesn't generate complacency automatically. It takes greed, short-sightedness and arrogance, too. Fans didn't bring those to Roger Goodell's tailgate.
Dragging the fans into the blamefest related to Peterson and Rice, as some professional scolds have tried to do, is wrong. It also gives we fans too easy an out from a football issue for which our moral responsibility is enormous.
People who like to watch football are contributing directly to destroying the minds and bodies of the people they're watching. The medical evidence has become impossible to ignore without willful denial. That quandary should be addressed or at least recognized by every follower of the sport.
I think about the issue. I've written about it on this blog for years now. It doesn't mean I have stopped watching football, although I'm not watching as much as I used to. It doesn't mean I still don't love football. It's just not blind love. I don't want to be co-dependent on football. If the sport doesn't significantly improve player safety, which may not even be possible, my fan level will drop from avid to casual to what else is on.
Don't know how long that progression will take. I'd guess it would quite a while. Five seasons? Ten? For sure it'd be more than the right now yesterday demanded by those selfsame scolds.
In columns today running on parallel tracks of error, Dan Shaughnessy of the Globe and Michael Powell of the New York Times both expressed indignation/bemusement/cynical scorn that despite the debacles of the month, pro football remains popular. The subtext, of course, was "you people reading the sports section, you like football. Shame on you!"
Aside from the questionable business practice of ragging on the customers, the lack of perception expressed by Powell and Shaughnessy, whom I hasten to add have been far from the only commentators from the sports world and otherwise to say or write the same tripe, is dazzling. Are they aware of, oh, all of human history?
People can and do change every day. Change however, seldom comes quickly and almost never immediately. The rate of change in mass human behavior is slower still. To believe football fans should immediately lose interest in a pastime they've practiced for years because of the collateral damage of its violence is to hold them to a standard of moral behavior achieved by no society ever.
Coincidentally, this also gives fans a swell excuse to ignore said damage. Most folks are willing to accept only what they see as their fair share of responsibility. Almost all know damn well they had nothing to do with Peterson or Rice's actions. It's an easy if incorrect rationalization to leap to thinking those brain-damaged former players have nothing to do with them either.
The demand for perfect behavior is the enemy of the reflection needed to generate gradual improvement. The NFL's popularity will never just drop off the table. If it ever declines, it will be through erosion, not implosion.
Fandom is a habit. Habits are hard to break. Habits shared by millions of people never end in an outbreak of mass cold turkey.
They can shrink, though The Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health was published on January 11, 2014. Smoking was still really popular in February 1964. Fifty years later, it's an outcast habit shunned by most Americans and limited by society as a matter of law.
If football can't or won't change, will its human toll make it a broken habit in 50 years? Beats me. I have enough trouble figuring out how I should treat the game. Fans should know the score. After that, I refuse to advise them, let alone scold them.
First, Assume a Different Boston
The good citizens of Boston 2024 Partnership, the folks who wish to being the Summer Olympics to the city in that seemingly faraway year, think it's a wonderful thing Boston has a compact city core convenient for pedestrians and public transit. Their excitement over this geographic truth somehow became the lead story in this morning's Globe.
Here's the shorthand version of the lede. It MAY be that the International Olympic Committee is attracted to just a setting for its little get-together, so it MAY be the U.S. Olympic Committee will pick Boston as its nominee for 2024 host city over L.A., the Bay Area, and Washington, D.C. So the Partnership is very encouraged.
Good for them. No, honest, I mean it. There is no point in this group of influential businessmen and other movers and shakers to do any moving and shaking if there's not some evidence it isn't all in vain. It may not read like it, but I'm on their side. I support bringing the Olympics to Boston, on the grounds I would enjoy it and so would others. I am even willing to help.
Free advice is my first bit of volunteer assistance to the Partnership. Gang, that story was no puff piece. It was a warning letter..
John Powers wrote the story. He knows as much or more about the Games, from its top-level politics to 2020 archery medal favorites, than anyone else on earth. And in between quotes from Partnership leaders Joe Fish and Bob O'Donnell, John sprinkled facts indicating that much of the Partnership's planning may still be in the Power Point stage.
Here's a couple of excerpts from Powers' nut paragraph. "It is not clear if the city is ready to commit to staging the Games." Also, "it is still investigating the feasibility and availability of sites in the vicinity."
Oh. Except for having secured the cooperation of necessary public and private institutions or having generated significant public support, Boston's Olympic bid is right on track. No wonder the bidders are optimistic.
I have my doubts about institutional support. As a former Cantabridgian shooed off of Harvard's unused athletic fields in summers past, I wonder if the school would just say, "Fine, let us donate our football stadium and anything else you need." But the Partnership is composed of influential people. If it believes that influence will bring civic institutions to their cause, it's in a better position to judge.
What I have no doubt about whatsoever is that the Partnership has yet to demonstrate any kind of outside game. If it is making efforts to convince the public of Greater Boston to get behind the Games, those efforts have not reached my attention. And when its leaders have tried to rally public support, they've hit exactly the wrong note.
The "legacy" of the 2024 for the public is supposed to be a better subway system and a new soccer stadium. I suppose it's inevitable that a group led by a construction industry guy (Fish) would regard built structures as the apex of any community, but this is pretty weak tea to justify what would be in the best case a mass disruption of normal life for four million people for three weeks.
It's also selling the Games under a premise so mistaken as to constitute false advertising. The "legacy" of an Olympics is never stuff. The stuff winds up being downsized at best and abandoned ruins at worst before the next Games. The Games are sports. Sports are about getting away from normal life to make life more fun.
Holding a successful Games requires a huge level of civic cooperation. Even holding a clusterfuck Games like Atlanta in 1996 required it. There can't be any civic cooperation without cooperative citizens. As far as I can tell, the Partnership has yet to try and rally such citizens, or even to identify them.
Greater Boston is an area where an annoying large percentage of the public will tell strangers until they're stupified that "this is the greatest sports town in America (or Earth)." Yet the Partnership hasn't stressed the most obvious thing about the Games, to wit, they really are the greatest sports EVENT on earth. Great sports town should host great sports events seems like a pretty simple and effective PR message to me.
It's only effective, however, if its addressed to sports fans. The Partnership needs to be moving past the Globe to where the fans are. forums like the city's two regional cable sports networks and its two sports talk radio stations. Yes, they'll be treated badly by sneering skeptics. This is inescapable. After all, we're talking about media that currently are bitching about Tom Brady because the Patriots only won their last game by 23 points. Whining in the face of the prosperity is the most unattractive characteristic of the Boston fan base.
But if the skeptics can be fought to a draw, the larger body of neutrals can be turned into Games fans. This is or ought to be the Partnership's first priority. If sports fans decide the Games are for them, the group has a shot at its longshot dream. If that doesn't happen, there won't be a Boston Olympics, no matter how many powerful institutions sign on for the ride. There won't be enough civic cooperation by the general public to let those institutions get their way.
I have been blessed to have attended four Olympic Games, three Summer, one Winter. Whether or not they wound up benefiting the economies and infrastructure of Barcelona, Lillehammer, Norway, Atlanta and Sydney I neither know nor care. I know every spectator, volunteer and person in the street I saw at each Games appeared to be having a marvelous time. I know I left each one with memories that will remain vivid and cherished my whole life long.
Putting on the Games is expensive and doesn't pay for itself. That's a truth that needs no apology. So is putting on a big fancy wedding for one's daughter. Those happen every week in every culture, because parents love their children. The Games can and do take place because people love sports.
Putting on a party for the whole world isn't a sensible thing to do. It's a love thing to do. If the Partnership wants to get this burg on its side, it had best abandon its edifice complex and tell the whole and corny truth.
Promise Boston what you can deliver, memories to be cherished for a lifetime. That's what a "legacy" is, not another damn station on the Green Line.
Must Find Something Else to Do TV
Let me be clear about one point right up front. Nobody but the Minnesota Vikings is to blame for how yesterday's Patriots game lacked a sense of urgency, or sense of dramatic tension, or any other appeal to the senses. The team that provides the only side of a one-sided contest is not responsible for its tedium.
Still, my daughter is a stalwart Pats fan, and she came over to her parent's house to see the game on high definition, and by the late second quarter, we were clicking to other sports in which she has less than no interest, such as golf and NASCAR. Our sports conversations were 1), where did golfer Billy Horschel get the first pair of Madras pants seen in public since the Carter administration? and 2), what will Tom Brady do when he retires?
We got that last figured out. By the time Tom hangs it up, Hollywood will be ready for yet another Batman.
I don't think we were the only ones unable to focus on the blowout. Brady himself looked less than fully engaged on the sidelines in the second half. Winning is always enjoyable, but in truth, by the second half, the Pats were in practice mode. Playing well was to maintain the habits needed for future games, not to win the game at hand. Few if any athletes in any sport find practice as fulfilling as competition.
No, when I come to think of it, there's only one person who watched the Pats-Vikings game who should've found it three hours of enjoyable entertainment. That would be Teddy Bridgewater. Minnesota's rookie backup QB gained at least a month on the moment when he can throw his baseball cap and clipboard away for keeps.
Today's Big Game, Fans vs. Facts
When the Patriots-Vikings game comes on TV today, take a moment and check the opposing sidelines.
Scan the Minnesota sideline. Adrian Peterson probably won't be there. He's inactive due to being a monster. One of pro football's biggest stars, the darling of all fantasy leagues, was charged last week with beating one of his children in the name of "discipline."
Ray Rice cold-cocked his future wife in an act of alcohol-fueled rage. That's horrible. Peterson's case is worse. He beat a child as a deliberate decision. That's not the act of a normal, let alone decent person.
Now look at the Patriots sideline. Doing so during the National Anthem would be perfect. Gaze at the 45 Pats lined up in order. Try to guess which 15 of these young, strong, vibrant athletes will be half-human wrecks tottering to premature death by my age of 65 or younger, much younger, maybe by 50, their brains permanently injured and diseased due to the game that's just about to start.
According to an actuarial survey conducted for the former players suing the NFL, a survey not disputed by the league as a matter of fact, roughly one-third of all players will develop some form of brain trauma related medical issue in their lives. Go pick your particular Patriots hero and imagine them with Parkinson's disease, or unable to recognize their own grandchildren in 2040. Now have some more chips and dip and root, root, root for the home team.
Some say that the increasing evidence that many NFL players are a danger to others as well as to themselves poses a threat to pro football's ludicrous level of popularity. I wish this were so, but I have my doubts. People are as attracted to monsters as they are frightened by them, and their safe display has long been a very profitable racket. Ask the Discovery Channel and Chatham, Massachusetts about the great white shark's contribution to their bottom lines.
Most players aren't monsters, after all. Most leave their gift for violence in the locker room next to their shoulder pads, go home and lead lives appropriate to reckless rich young men, no more of a menace to society than Justin Bieber. Many lead humdrum suburban young married with children lives. It is quite possible for any fan to rationalize that a few bad apples don't spoil his or her barrel of NFL fun.
But what if the barrel itself is killing people, shortening the lives of football players in the most terrible way imaginable? Even the dimmest fan knows that the entire massive structure of the NFL rests upon their willingness to pay for tickets and sit in front of the tube for hours on end watching the collisions that are causing those brain injuries. The dimmer the fan, the more likely they are to tell you loudly they are the sport's bedrock.
When I was a child and teenage NFL fan, it was accepted knowledge that former players had permanent health issues and the risk of premature death. But it was thought the risks were joint issues and the possibility of cardiac arrest. Former players had limps. Former players needed to lose weight. These were not problems to disturb the fan's role in the game.
Now well into the 21st century, we know better. Football the sport contains the certainty, not the risk, of a casualty level among players that'd be deemed unacceptable by any military planner in the world. One third of them will be lost or crippled by the time they hit normal retirement age, in a country with a significantly increasing percentage of people in that age group.
Dangerous sports can improve player safety. Auto racing has. But those changes were to machines, not human beings. They were also conducted by sports organizations who actually believed some risks were unacceptable, that danger was bad for business.
If there's one thing we've learned about pro football in 2014, it's that the men who run the NFL don't think anything can ever be bad for their business. Make that two things. We've also learned they don't care about anything in their business but the rapacious search for more profits. The league SAYS it's deeply concerned about player safety. It says it doesn't like domestic violence, either. The survey I cited only took place because the NFL was sued, not because of its well wishes for its former employees.
The most disquieting thought I want fans to have this afternoon is that maybe the NFL couldn't make its sport safer even if it did want to. Perhaps no rule or equipment improvements can alter the fact that repeated collisions between strong, fast, insanely motivated young men are going to permanently damage one of every three brains involved.
If so, then every fan must look at complicity. Their enjoyment, and pro football offers plenty, is being purchased at the price of someone else's cognition. Fans are the bedrock of football. Therefore, it is our obligation to know just what the hell we are supporting.
Rationalization being one of humanity's supreme skills, most fans will deny or ignore what the NFL's human damage this afternoon except for knee injuries suffered by their fantasy teams. 2040 is a long way off, after all. Medical science will save the heroes of 2014 by then.
Some won't. The ones who won't are the real risk to the NFL, a risk it ignores at its peril, and a risk of course it will ignore.
Boxing's dangers to the human brain have been known for centuries. It's still popular enough. Floyd Mayweather, another beautiful person, remains quite rich.
But boxing is nowhere as popular as it was for the first two-thirds of the 20th century. If you chart its decline in the U.S. alongside the NFL's growth the two lines are almost exactly parallel. America found a violent sport it found more acceptable because it seemed safer. The athletes wore helmets and pads!
The knowledge that football violence is just as if not more dangerous to long-term human health as boxing ought to be hard to rationalize. Some fans, the best of us in many ways, will renounce pro ball forever and watch the Premier League or something else instead. Others won't drop out, they'll just consume less of the sport than they used to. They'll watch the Pats or whatever team they follow and find three hours of moral dilemma a week is enough for them.
I am not an optimist about mankind, but neither do I think humans are incapable of change for the better. While I know the vast majority of fans will continue to consume the NFL's product with gusto, I believe most of them will at least feel the occasional qualm about it, and that the numbers of dropouts and use-lesses will grow as the facts about football brain damage grow.
I believe this because that while most people like watching monsters from a safe distance, few like to think maybe they're the monster.
One Nation, Under the Covers in Hiding
.The American people saw something on TV that scared them, so in his ritual presidential role as Mythic Daddy, Barack Obama had to go on TV and promise he'd drop bombs on the scary thing until it went away. It won't go away in reality, but that's not important, really. The bombs are for creating videos of dead non-Americans that'll make the bad dreams stop until the next scary thing comes along in a month or two. For sure it will. Fear Junkie Nation never has a problem finding a fix.
The Islamic State of Not Easily Translatable Arabic Word is an organization of very bad and people, murderous lunatics to be precise. They should scare people, people like Iraqis, Syrians, Turks, Iranians, you know, their neighbors. We are not their neighbors, no matter what cable "news" or panicky legislators say. Oh, they'd love to kill Americans in bulk, but IS has its hands full killing its neighbors in bulk right now.
The murder of two American journalists in Syria was a monstrous crime. Americans ought to be angry, and they are. But not they're not mad angry, they're afraid angry, an irrational response to horror that does us no credit as a society. It also does nothing to address the object of all that fear.
The U.S. is no more nor less vulnerable to mass terror attacks this afternoon than it was before its two citizens were murdered in a foreign country one third of the globe away. Having dropped the ball so horribly on September 11, 2001, our government has triple-locked its barn doors and the security measures, many ridiculous on their own, have worked as a group. Terrorist incidents here, like the Marathon bombing, have been one-offs by loners, the sort of crime most difficult to prevent no matter what its motive.
Yet polls show more Americans are convinced they in danger of imminent attack than at any time since 9/11. That's a dispiriting comment on the national moxie level. We saw other Americans murdered by foul criminals and said not "how awful," or "what can we do to stop this?" but "I'm gonna be next!"
Sad to say, the reaction to IS was only the second most dispiriting comment on the national moxie level this summer. The large numbers of Americans living hundreds and thousands of miles to the north who regarded a large influx of destitute, frightened children at out southern border as an existential threat took the grand prize in the Poltroon Sweepstakes.
Come to think of it, in my 65 years as a citizen, the U.S. has always been frightened of something or other. Some of the fears, like nuclear holocaust, have been utterly rational, others, like fear of the effect on our children of knowing the President had oral sex, somewhat less so. There's hardly been a month, let alone year, where the national mood was as self-confident as it was in the depths of the Depression. It's a short walk from habituation to addiction.
Addicts need pushers. There's a fear peddler on every U.S. corner. Fear sells, Fear gets great ratings. Fear wins elections. Fear makes people easy to fool.
Islamic State of Whatever should be a worry, not a fear. It is indeed a threat to the considerable national interests of the U.S. in the Middle East. Providing explosions on behalf of the useless government of Iraq to prevent its complete collapse is a legitimate if debatable policy which might well achieve that very limited goal. If Obama had just said just that the other night, he'd have spared himself a lot of trouble in the long run.
In the short run, of course, it would've been nothing but trouble for him. A vow of total victory is a mandatory element of every Presidential statement involving military action, no matter how impossible such victory may be. Despite several recent lost wars begun on the total victory principle, we remain an all or nothing people -- as long as nobody calls us on our call for triumph.
Imagine for a moment that Obama had gone whole hog all-in against IS Wednesday night. Suppose he had described the group as a grave danger to U.S. national security requiring a maximum and immediate military response in a conflict that would of necessity take years and would require both tax increases to pay for it and a partial reinstatement of the draft to complete that mission.
Would America have heard the clarion call and metaphorically and actually rushed to the recruiting stations? Would Congress have exploded in unanimous patriotic support? We all know the answers. Obama would've been impeached yesterday and on track for conviction next week. America is scared all right, but it's not THAT scared, not scared enough to personally make sacrifices to conquer fear. The rush of fright is preferable. We subcontract the real work to a small minority of brave citizens.
Fear Junkie Nation. Like many addicts, we'll tell you we can quit anytime we want.
We don't want to.
Remote Poses Remote Danger to the NFL
Didn't watch the Ravens and Bengals on CBS last night. This wasn't a protest by a good and concerned citizen, a boycott to show my outrage at the NFL's inhumane corruption made evident by the Ray Rice case. If immorality and corruption REALLY bothered fans, there wouldn't be any professional sports on earth. I just wasn't that interested.
Aside from the franchise's ethical failure with Rice, what about the Ravens should interest people outside of greater Baltimore? The Steelers don't even have scandal going for them. It has been clear since the first day of training camp that the probability is over 95 percent that each team will muddle along in the middle of the parity pack all season, the Ravens having a decent chance at making the playoffs and losing in the first round and the Steelers an excellent chance of going 7-9 or worse. Clicking on the game to see the score was 10-3 at the half, my prior lack of interest was vindicated and I went to bed a smug and happy man.
Did I find some rewarding cultural or family activity to replace football? Does 10 minutes of reading Patricia Welles' latest food and restaurant guide to Paris and daydreaming of being rich and living there count? No? OK, then, the rest of the time I let my philistine bad self roll and watched TV.
What did I watch instead of the game? Well, like most bored American males my age, I sampled the video buffet by dial-twitching. I caught a few innings of Andy Cobb's no-hit bid for the Rays against the Yanks, missing one hell of a comeback by signing off when Cobb gave up his first hit. I watched the Stonecutters episode of "The Simpsons" on FXX. In what should give Les Moonves pause, I even tuned in to a "The Big Bang Theory" rerun, the program CBS has shifted to Monday nights to make room for the stylings of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. All in all, a pretty normal night for the tube.
There's the rub for the NFL right there, the word normal. I am a devout and lifelong pro football fan. Check this blog, which in seven years has a majority, a significant one, of NFL-related posts. On a normal night of TV, said fan found a normal early season game between two normal (in football terms) teams something he could easily miss because there were other programs providing better diversion. The teams I follow (the Eagles as a fan, the Patriots through semi-professional interest) weren't playing. No big stars to monitor. I don't play fantasy football, but I hope and pray those who do weren't so silly as to have too many Ravens and Steelers on their rosters. What CBS has spent all summer touting as the ultimate in Event viewing was just another show.
And as with most shows in the 5000 channel, 500 platform media universe, if you miss it, you can always catch it later. It's not as if I still don't have the opportunity to gorge myself on the NFL and football in general until my eyeballs bleed in Week Two of the pro season. There will be 10 hours of NFL games on Sunday, three on Monday night, and roughly 14 hours of college games shown Saturday. I will watch the Pats and Eagles games for sure, and likely sample other NFL and college fare in the other broadcast windows -- unless there's something better on.
That's part of the theoretic rub I posed for the NFL as well.. Last night my name was Overexposure. I was the embodiment of the catastrophe Mark Cuban has forecast for the league, a threat to its entire business model.
In a column in the Globe years ago, Leigh Montvillle gave the best description of how the NFL works I have ever read or heard. Paraphrasing from memory, Leigh said that the NFL became and stays rich because it has somehow convinced customers that all its games were equally important, or at least equally interesting. It thrives because Patriots fans can and do tune in to see the Packers play the Panthers too, as opposed to baseball, where even in the playoffs fans watch the home team and nobody else.
Last night this football fan treated Steelers-Bengals as if it were, gasp, a baseball game. My teams weren't involved, I found no other reason (what's the equivalent of a no-hitter?) to care, so I didn't. There will be other games to watch, lots of them. Too many maybe.
Watching the NFL on Sundays is a habit I'll never break. Watching the
NFL on Monday nights is no longer a habit. Watching the NFL on Thursdays
is a habit I have yet to take up, and I already declined the first free
hit offered by my network pusher.
Anecdotes are not data. Without a hint of evidence, I'll bet the ratings for Bengals-Steelers were all CBS and the NFL desired and more, much more due to the Scandal Factor. I'm hardly in the demographic each is seeking anyway, being too old to waste my remaining time on earth drinking light beer or eating franchise pizza.
In a nation of 310 million people, however if one person thinks, feels or does something, other people thought, felt or did the same thing. I was in a minority of football fans last night, probably a tiny one, but I wasn't alone.
Watching the NFL on Sundays is a habit I'll never break. Watching the NFL on Monday nights is no longer a habit. Watching the NFL on Thursdays is a habit I have yet to take up, and I already declined the first free hit offered by my network pusher.
Next Thursday night's game is the Bucs at the Falcons. I give the "Simpsons" a better than even money shot at offering up a more engrossing rerun.
Oxymorons in Action
The "independent investigation" is the next to last refuge of scoundrels. Naturally the National Football League has just commissioned one.
I put the phrase independent investigation in quotes because it always should be. An investigation which the organization being investigated pays for by definition cannot be independent. It's what organizations turn to when neck deep in scandal with no idea of how to get to dry ground. Such investigations are always and forever to serve purposes other than the discovery of facts.
In the NFL's case, it's Plan B, since the stonewall coverup Plan A died a grisly death yesterday at the hands of the Associated Press. It reported that an unnamed official in New Jersey law enforcement said he had too sent the video tape of Ray Rice slugging Janay Palmer to league headquarters in April, a claim thoughtfully documented by said official replaying an NFL voice mail acknowledging its receipt. This leaves Commissioner Roger Goodell, who earlier denied such a thing on national television in a CBS News interview, with one of two possible identities in the case -- Big Fat Liar or Worse and Dimmer Manager Than the Pointy-Haired Boss in Dilbert.
The NFL still denies all, but sensing the ambivalence of that stance, hired former FBI director Robert Mueller to lead the investigation that'll find the truth once and for all. Well, maybe not exactly to lead. The manhunt will be "overseen" by NFL owners John Mara of the Giants and Art Rooney of the Steelers. BTW, the Washington law firm where Mueller's a partner numbers Redskins owner Dan Snyder as a client. Sure sounds like Mueller will be independent and free of conflicts of interest to me!
The purpose of this "investigation" is so obvious even Phil Simms ought to get it, although for business purposes he won't. The NFL is seeking to buy what investigations take -- time. It needs time for the natural desire of football fans to follow the sport of football to submerge any revulsion at the moral void at the center of pro football governance, time for the next big media freakout to come along (videos of bombed Syrians would be most welcome at 345 Park Avenue), and most of all, time for the next knucklehead player to strike a woman so Goodell can provide lynch law. Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy are likely to be home for Sunday chores this fall.
All this to protect Goodell? That's the wonder of the story, just as Rice's violence is the horror. Thirty-two unbelievably wealthy and successful businessmen are going out on a limb for a guy who's proven to be a distinct business liability. Since Pete Rozelle left, the owners have gradually stripped the commissioner's office of authority. Player discipline and marketing were what Goodell had left in the way of powers. He's just blown both to an extent that astonishes me. I don't think even Sepp Blatter of FIFA could've done a worse job.
The owners may want to stand by Goodell now, but this insane tolerance must have limits. It is the nature of scandals that the bigger they get, the bigger the scapegoat an organization needs to douse its flames. The world, not to mention TMZ, is not going to stand by and wait for Mueller.
Somewhere in the Chicago offices of Wilson Sporting Goods this morning, there's an executive pondering whether it might be wise to put a stop order on the machine that brands Goodell's signature into NFL footballs. Just in case.
We Won't Know Until You See The Films
There are only three possible scenarios and it's impossible to say which is more disgraceful for the National Football League.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Baltimore Ravens could be lying about how much they knew about the nature of Ray Rice's criminal assault on Janay Palmer prior to Rice's two-game suspension. In that case, the NFL is a den of scoundrels.
Or it could be some league personnel knew of the video tape showing the dreadful nature of Rice's sucker punch of his fiancee and chose to shortstop that knowledge with the passive collaboration of Goodell and the Ravens. Better to let the powers that be operate on the premises of plausible deniability. Better to make it a he said, she said affair than seek out an easily verifiable truth in the interests of business as usual. In that case, the NFL is a den of foolish,.cowardly scoundrels.
Finally, the league and Ravens could be telling the truth. They had no idea of just how violent Rice's attack was until they saw the video unearthed by TMZ and were appropriately shocked and appalled, which is why Rice is now both suspended and unemployed. That's that the NFL would like us to believe, although I don't know why. In some ways, that's the most depressing scenario of the three. Cluelessness causes far more evil in this world than does evil intent.
Goodell, the Ravens and the entire league would prefer us to think that they were blissfully unaware of what happens when a professional football player hits someone until they saw it with their own eyes. If so, what the hell do they think they've been selling all these years? Every week of every season, last week being no exception, other enormously strong and fit pro players wearing pounds of protective equipment suffer serious injuries when their peers hit them. Do the men who run our most violent sport lack the imagination to envision what happened when a player strikes a woman protected only by a cocktail dress? Do they think claiming to be so blinkered makes the league look better?
Sadly, they do. Covering the NFL, I met few if any outright scoundrels and an infinite number of people wearing blinkers. They put them on so as not to be distracted by the sight of any part of the world outside the NFL. The blinkers work well. They've helped make the NFL ridiculously rich. They've also led to the league's constant surprise at the changes constantly taking place in society at large.
Take drug use as an issue. NFL policies are based on attitudes formed by old people in the 1970s. Josh Gordon was suspended for a year for repeated marijuana use, a drug Broncos fans were taking openly and quite legally in the parking lot of Mile High Stadium before Sunday night's game with the Colts.
Read the following bitter joke on the Internet yesterday.
"Mr. Commissioner, there's tape of Wes Welker popping Molly."
"Suspend him two games, that's awful."
"Molly's a drug, not a person."
"Make it four games."
It's not that the NFL doesn't think violence against women is bad. It's that violence against women is an outside world problem. Drug use can affect (sometimes) the on-field product. Barring a player's arrest, conviction and jail time, all too rare in all domestic violence cases, the violent crime doesn't.
The blinkers kept the league from noting that much and probably most of America has come to see violence against women as a much, much worse crime than recreational drug use. The blinkers kept the NFL from seeing that most people think Jim Irsay's driving under the influence beef was a more serious issue than Welker Gone Wild at the Kentucky Derby. The blinkers keep the league from realizing that its amazing ability to control information about its own activities stops dead when it hits activities of its personnel in the 21st century outside world of social media and omnipresent video recording.
I am sure that everyone in the NFL and its media-industrial complex of broadcast partners will swear on a stack of autographed pictures of Vince Lombardi that when it comes to domestic violence, their eyes are now open wide with full peripheral vision. They'll mean it, too. Meaning to change comes a lot easier than change itself. I'm not so optimistic about real change, because I remember Blenda Gay.
Blenda Gay was a pretty fair defensive lineman for the Eagles back in the day. One night his wife Roxanne slit his throat as he slept, and her defense on the murder charge was it came in response to repeated violence at the hands of her husband. Ms. Gay was found legally insane, and there was conflicting evidence about whether or not she was a victim of her husband,, but one would've thought that the actual murder of a player would have put the NFL on red alert about the issue of domestic violence as an institutional threat.
Gay was murdered on December 23, 1976. The whole horrible story of how the league dealt with Rice's documented case of violent and possibly fatal assault on a woman indicates how little it has changed in almost 40 years. The one reason Rice's crime was treated as a Big Deal by the NFL yesterday was because of us, not it. Society at large as represented, God help us, by TMZ, stood right in front of the league and made it do so. That's the only way the NFL ever changes.
As any trainer will tell you, the trick with blinkers is that the horse stops realizing it's wearing them.