The NFL is a giant; this is not news. Since the 1960s, when the AFL and NFL merged to make one league, the NFL has been appointment television. Every Sunday, families gather around televisions to watch games that their favorite teams may not even be playing in. Fans shell out thousands of dollars to actually go to the games and support their teams. The appointment television has extended, now, to Monday and Thursday nights. The League makes billions per year and is a force of nature that is not hinting at slowing down. The NFL has become, in essence, too big to fail.
To say this season has been tumultuous so far is an understatement. Some of the stars of the league have been charged with heinous crimes ranging from DUIs to Domestic Abuse, both on spouses and on children. Yet despite all that, despite all the negative press and new details that come out about each scandal, the NFL does not take a hit. Like bullets bouncing off Superman’s chest, the scandals that would rock any other company to the core have absolutely no effect on the League.
The season of scandals started back in February when Ray Rice knocked out his then-fiancé in an elevator, which is something that we’ve covered in the newspaper before, so I won’t go into detail. Then there was Josh Gordon, one of the league’s top young receivers, who was arrested for a DWI while he was in the process of appealing his second failed drug test for marijuana use. Then there was Greg Hardy who, like Rice, abused his girlfriend and, among other things, grabbed her by her hair and threw her on a bed covered in guns. All of this happened in the offseason, and we’re still not done yet.
A week into the season, Adrian Peterson, who is widely regarded as one of the league’s best players, was indicted on charges of child abuse. Peterson hit his four-year-old son with a switch, which is a small stick or branch. And the last major one, for now, came out earlier last week when running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested for domestic abuse. He allegedly abused both his wife and son, according to ESPN reports.
That’s just the players. There have been cases of an owner, Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts, and other higher level management employees, see: Denver Broncos, committing egregious acts just like the players they are supposed to be setting the example for.
And then we get to last Friday, when the Baltimore Ravens officially became the Penn State of the NFL. Outside the Lines published a lengthy report, citing about 20 sources that all say how the Ravens went out of their way to lessen the punishment of Ray Rice and they even went as far as to try to influence the NFL and law enforcement to cover up just how bad the Rice situation was, all so they could focus on winning football games. In an obvious public relations move, the Ravens denied the claims made by the report, but the report does not sound farfetched, especially in the current state of the league.
Yet with all of that knowledge, with every fan knowing just how the league operates, come Sunday, nothing changed. Fans still packed the stadiums. Those who could not make it to the stadiums watched on television, myself included. Most of the fans were outraged at how the NFL handled the situations it was dealing with, but almost none of the fans did anything outside tweeting something. Hell, when I was walking around campus on Sunday, I saw a kid in a Ray Rice jersey.
From the beginning, it was said the NFL would not change any of its policies unless they started to lose money. Well, we were right. The NFL did not change its policies on anything until sponsors threatened to pull out. And when Radisson did, the NFL moved quicker than ever to “change the culture” of the League. In reality, not much changed; they simply just changed the punishment structure and looked like they were saving face.
When I was a freshman here, I wrote an essay in Kyle Belanger’s College Writing class which was entitled, “Sports: The Opiate of the People”. I thought I was being clever at the time, changing Karl Marx’s famous quote, “religion is the opiate of the people” and arguing that sports have become bigger than religion and even politics. Well, it turns out I was right. Later that year, the Penn State scandal happened, which was then followed by a number of other scandals, and guess what? We’re all still watching. Like addicts denying they have a drug problem, we deny that we are addicted to sports.
We deny that we will turn back to sports no matter what because it is such an escape for us. Sundays make us happy because they allow us to lose focus on reality for a day. We can sit around, in a semi-vegetative state, watching our “idols” play a game for hours at a time. We spend thousands of dollars on a product that, ultimately, gives us nothing in return save for a good feeling for a little while, before the good feeling stops and we crave it again, and we start aching to feel it again. I challenge you, ask a fan of a troubled team, one that hasn’t been to the playoffs in a long time, and they will, semi-jokingly, tell you what they would do to get their team back to the playoffs, to get themselves back to that good feeling.
So here we stand today. The NFL is still making millions of dollars every week; the league that harbors criminals, the league that lies to the faces of the people that spend countless paychecks to support, the league that promises to change but doesn’t. We still support it because it is our addiction which has no methadone clinic. The NFL has us addicted and begging for more, and there is nothing we can do about it. Like any good company with a PR team, they’ll rebrand and reprint, but at the base of it all, nothing will change. The NFL is way too big to fail and we only have ourselves to thank for that.
By the way, only three more days until Sunday. Are you ready for some football?
I know I am.