As one of the most lucrative entertainment entities in the entire world, the National Football League has established itself as the pride and joy of American sports enthusiasts. Over the past 31 years, the sport has been at the top of Sports Illustrated’s “Most Popular Sports in America” poll, claiming over 35 percent of the vote. For perspective, the second most popular sport entity was Major League Baseball, which pulled in only 14 percent of the vote. With an estimated market value of $45 billion, the NFL tops the list of sports leagues with the highest revenue around the world. The power and influence of the league has long been attached to popular culture, as fans from all walks of life roam to their team’s stadiums every Sunday to see some of the finest athletes in the world competing against one another.
The league represents a running narrative for each of the 32 teams: narratives of suspense, of hope, of frustration, and of glory. Each season is a new opportunity, a fresh start for a city to go out and prove their greatness through the freakish athletes on their payroll. As fans, we become accustomed to idolizing those players that perform best, especially as young kids, because they epitomize hard work, dedication, resilience, confidence, and so many other traits that our society holds in high regard. Basically, the top flight players serve as romanticized role models to younger generations on how to go out and achieve your dreams. In the mind of a child, these players can do no wrong: they are like gods! They do not make mistakes! They can do no wrong!
However, much like the mystique of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, eventually the harshness of reality begins to set in. These men are indeed only human, and they make human mistakes.
No one is shocked when NFL players make headlines for being arrested at this point. It’s unfortunate when it happens, and it’s doubly so if the player is a key part of your team or if the crime committed is absolutely horrifying, but when you have such a large pool of young men at the height of their powers, loaded with testosterone, and making outrageous sums of money, there really is no shock that some step out of line from time to time. Mistakes happen, right? As a collective society, we forgive and forget about one DUI; hell, I already know quite a few people in my own life that have a DUI, or a citation for marijuana. While the act they committed is irrevocably stupid, I do not believe one bit that a DUI or marijuana charge makes someone a bad person.
Unfortunately, the NFL has had much deeper and darker issues circulating among its players the last few years, beyond the usual substance abuse issues. There can be no justification in this day and age for men as freakishly strong as NFL players to be laying their hands on their spouses, girlfriends, and children as much as they currently do. During last year alone, Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on an elevator camera punching his now-wife Janay Palmer. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges for hitting his four-year-old son, Adrian Jr., with a switch.
And perhaps the worst offender of the bunch, Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was arrested for beating his girlfriend Nicole Harder during an incident in which he threw her on a bed laden with assault rifles, threatened to kill her, and choked her. For his actions, Greg Hardy was suspended for 15 games last year, and during the offseason he was handed another four-game suspension by the league. Now playing for the Dallas Cowboys, the feisty defensive end made headlines the week of his return for making disparaging comments about Tom Brady’s supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen.
“I love seeing Tom Brady,” Hardy said in an Oct. 7 interview. “He’s cool as crap. Have you seen his wife? I hope she comes to the game. I hope her sister comes to the game, all her friends come to the game.”
Hardy went on to say that he picked his Pro Bowls by how attractive the prospective player’s wives are. I’m sorry, but ‘tone deaf’ does not quite portray how asinine all these comments are, especially given the suspension he was literally just returning from. Surely Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones was not happy about these comments. Surely he stepped in and got his player under control or, more appropriately, suspended him, right?
“When I saw [Brady] marry [Bundchen], Tom went up in my eyes 100 percent,” Jones said when asked about Hardy’s interview. “She’s very, very attractive and it shows what an outstanding individual Tom is.”
So, guess not. In fact, Hardy isn’t even mentioned directly here! Good Lord, Hardy and Jones both sound like they are locked in prepubescence and their parents do not have the stomach yet to have “the talk.” The year is 2015, and there still are grown men that talk as if women are no more than novelties to be paraded about. This conduct would get anyone else fired from their job, and yet the NFL has had no response. As usual, the league has turned it’s cheek from a controversy that could potentially hurt its image.
Well, it only gets worse from there. Hardy got in a physical confrontation with a coach during a game against the New York Giants on Oct. 25. Once again, everyone looked to Jerry Jones for some form of punishment, and once again, Jones supported Hardy by proclaiming him “a vocal leader” in the locker room. Then, pictures of the bruises left on Hardy’s body the day following the beating surfaced on Nov. 6, and once again, fans were holding their breath. When photographic evidence was discovered in both Peterson and Rice’s cases, their punishments became more severe.
Where is Commissioner Goodell? Why is he not punishing Hardy for being a misogynistic pig, just as any other boss would if this conduct was observed in any other workplace? Why are NFL players essentially bulletproof in these situations, and why are the fans willing to look the other way as long as the product on the field is good?
The answers to these are all simple, and they all go back to the money. The message that the NFL sends when guys like Peterson, Rice, and especially Hardy get off from these incidents scot-free is that the players really are like gods, but not because of that maligned childhood belief in their inherent good. Instead, the players are like gods because they are above the rules, with the funds and the image to overcome anything that’s “illegal.” With how easily these domestic violence charges get dropped, it’s shocking that we even have laws that govern these men. If they bypass the judicial process by reaching a settlement, then what is the purpose of prosecuting in the first place? The place where the players can truly be hurt is by being suspended without pay for long stretches by the league, and that requires the NFL to step up.
It’s time to look in the mirror and dig deep, Mr. Goodell. Take a stand for the moral ethics of America’s biggest sport. Do what you need to so that these titans of men, romanticized by young boys all across the country, are idolized for all the right reasons.
Scott Vogel is a first-year student majoring in English. He can be reached at SV845618@wcupa.edu.