Yet Another Crisis in Football’s Reality Show
There is really no need to sugar coat football. It is a brutal game. The players who survive through the system from Pop Warner to Junior High School (or Middle School) to High School into college and then the pinnacle, the National Football league are incredible physical specimen. There can also be very intimidating and violent. You need to have a violent nature to play football, especially on the defensive side or the ball and on special teams.
Intimidation is a major part of a football player’s arsenal on the field and sometimes off the field as well. It is ingrained in the football culture from a player’s early days, the big hit, and the fights on the line of scrimmage which are overlooked.
The National Football League is built on perceived perception, the scripted violence that NFL Films turned into an art by slowing down video highlights and then laying down a music bed to accompany the video which grabbed attention of people to the violet ballet of football. Sure it’s a violent game but violence can be graceful or brutal as in the NFL’s first major breakthrough on the national stage of television on a CBS news/documentary show, the Violent World of Sam Huff which was narrated by Walter Cronkite back in 1960. This was two years prior to the league forming a partnership with CBS.
Richie Incognito is an offensive lineman with the Miami Dolphins. He could be unemployed for allegedly going a little too far in the age of practice of rookie hazing and welcoming a rookie to the club. There are some text messages out there that Incognito allegedly sent to Jonathan Martin that have surfaced which show a pattern of alleged bullying and extortion.
It is alleged that Miami Dolphins coaches and players knew what Incognito was doing and did nothing to stop whatever was going on. There is another Dolphins player who also has some problems. Massachusetts State Police served the Dolphins’ Mike Pouncey a grand jury subpoena following the team’s game with the New England Patriots on October 27 in connection with the investigation of former Patriots tight end Aaron Fernandez who has been charged with double murder. Massachusetts investigators apparent want some information from Pouncey who had a relationship with Hernandez.
There are some people of questionable integrity in the NFL but if a player can play, the background checks that reveal problems are overlooked. It’s the Faustian deal that organizations make with players who can play.
The National Football League is investigating the Incognito-Martin incident. Martin left the team last week and the Dolphins organization was very vague about Martin’s departure. The National Football League Players Association will be monitoring the situation.
The culture of football encourages rookie hazing but not quite on this level. The benign ritual of having a rookie sing his school song during training camp before veterans eating dinner. There are some stories of players being tied to goal posts which seems to be excessive.
The NFL is all about imagery. The swashbuckling quarterback, Bobby Layne, Brett Favre, the playboy quarterback Joe Namath, the intimidation factor of Ray Nitschke, Dick Butkus, Lawrence Taylor and Mean Joe Greene. That all leads to the allure of the NFL.
The football culture is broken and needs to be fixed but the game is so widely popular that responsible people—captains of industry who either owner teams or TV/Cable TV networks, and those who buy the big ticket items, club seats, luxury boxes and pay personal seat licenses fees as part of buying a seat to the game.
Football is protected by writers who pretty much stick to the script and report on games and not on the actual shadiness of the business from high school to college to the pros.
Its entertainment and people in America eat it up. College football, which by all accounts is is corrupt, rules on autumn Saturdays. Friday Night High School football is almost a sacred ritual in some areas of the country. The NFL owns Sundays in the fall and early winter, Monday Night Football has been running for 43 and a half years and now there is the Thursday component.
The game was almost put out of business in the early 20th century because of deaths on the college football playing field. The game captures many vices, violence, gambling, eating and drink to excessive levels by those sitting in front of television for 12 or 13 hours and sex (the cheerleaders, the sideline reporters or simply a sultry singer used to open the TV shows.
It is the ultimate “reality” show.
The NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is the face of the league. He is looked upon as someone who can magically wave a wand and get Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to change the name of his Washington franchise. Or he can make decisions that will benefit the league. There is nothing Goodell can do in this case but call for an investigation. But you wonder whether this will be a legitimate investigation of just more of the same.
More of the same would be along the lines of nothing happening with Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky who apparently was molesting children and protected by people at Penn State University and possibly by people beyond the university, after all Penn State is a state school and the football team was gold and still is gold in Pennsylvania.
Will it be along the lines of the NCAA investigation of the University of Miami where money was given to “student-athletes” by a criminal named Nevin Shapiro and the school lost a few scholarships but little else.
The delicate balance is handing out meaningful penalties yet keeping the integrity of the business. The NFL had more than a score of players arrested during the off season on various charges from driving under the influence of alcohol to Hernandez being charged with a double murder. Yet the industry is thriving despite the crises that are popping up.
The NFL has an issue with the long term health of players with the concussion issue first and foremost. But unaddressed are the health problems that will develop from morbid obesity and hypertension. College football may very soon be facing a lawsuit over failing to protect the health of “student-athletes” in the treatment of head injuries.
Now there is a bullying issue.
A know-nothing like Rush Limbaugh has weighed in saying Martin should be a man about this and compared himself to Martin during his days as a Kansas City Royals go-fer with veteran players. Of course Limbaugh plays the part of a radio bully daily so it is easy to see how he could side publicly for shock value with the Dolphins locker room culture. There will be others who will take the Limbaugh side as well. Some of Incognito’s teammates have taken the “boys will be boys” attitude. But Incognito’s actions have the hallmark of workplace harassment in least serious element of the story and extortion if the stories that are surfacing are true. The NFL cannot continue to go on growing and the league desperate wants a London, England presence, with crisis after crisis after crisis cropping up.
Of course, if people continue to sink money into the product, then the NFL will roll along as will college football. The CEO and President of the National Football Foundation Steve Hatchell is correct. Football is under siege. All the old saws about football teaching men life lessons, teamwork and being good for their development have always been empty words but when image is everything, those empty words are very effective in shaping public perception.
Football in America has skyrocketed to the top and what goes up must come down. At some point, all the arrests, the concussion issue, the Miami Dolphins’ players will outweigh what is going on during games. Goodell’s jobs is to keep the illusion going, but with all what is going around, can perceived perception trump reality?
Evan Weiner can be reached at email@example.com. His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/365489) and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/americas-passion-how-coal/id595575002?mt=11), From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/from-peach-baskets-to-dance/id636914196?mt=11) and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/business-and-politics-of-sports-evan-weiner/1101715508?ean=2940044505094) are available.