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Sunday, September 14, 2014

NFL's Violent Offenders

I've been an NFL fan since I was a little kid. When I was 10, I read Jerry Kramer's "Instant Replay," which turned me into a Green Bay Packers fan. That year, I also read George Plimpton's "Paper Lion," which didn't turn me into a Detroit Lions fan.

My father took my brother and me to NY Jets training camp at Hofstra University during the summer a few times. My first NFL game was watching the NY Giants host the Dallas Cowboys from the cheap obstructed-view seats (all we could afford) at the old Yankee Stadium. I worked in Washington during the Redskins' glory days and covered them by taking my morning show to San Diego and later Minneapolis when they won Super Bowls 22 and 26. The year I arrived in St. Louis, Kurt Warner led the Greatest Show On Turf to a Rams Super Bowl victory. Fantastic memories.

I watch NFL games because I love the sport, but in recent years, there's been a bitter taste in my mouth. I have done several radio shows about how the league has screwed its employees by denying a connection between the concussions on the field and the devastating brain injuries that shortened players' lives. I've talked about how NFL cheerleaders are treated like unpaid interns despite the demands the teams put on them for little (or no) salaries. I've talked about Dan Snyder's arrogant resistance to changing the Redskins' racist name.

Then there was this week, with the controversies over Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Adrian Peterson. They're all talented football players, and we know that the bigger the star, the easier the treatment. Top-level athletes are coddled from high school through college and into the professional ranks. Many of them breeze through schools without getting a real education, and they get away with all sorts of nasty stuff in everyday life because they're too valuable to keep off the field or court.

These three are but a small sample of the men in the NFL and other professional sports leagues who are a menace to society -- while simultaneously reflective of the epidemic of violence that gets played out in far too many homes across America -- and it's time to change the tradition of looking the other way as long as they throw, catch, and run well.

ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown devoted most of its first hour to the topic this morning, with some good commentary, including a mother's perspective from veteran sportscaster Hannah Storm and this emotional plea from former Viking receiver Cris Carter:

The question shouldn't be, "Will Roger Goodell keep his job?" The question should be, "Can the NFL become a leader in awareness of domestic violence and change its culture?" It already devotes part of its season to promoting breast cancer awareness, with players and officials wearing pink shoes, penalty flags, and towels. What's the right color for domestic violence?
I'm still tuning in to NFL games on TV, but I have a new perspective on what -- and who -- I'm watching. I hope that I'm not alone in this and, as Hannah Storm mentioned, I wonder what's going through the minds of the women who make up some 45% of the league's fan base. 
I wonder why a league that's so good at policing the players on the field hasn't figured out how to keep them in line off of it. These aren't action that can be disciplined with a 15-yard penalty. The punishments will have to be a lot tougher for players who can't restrict their violence to those hours when they're playing the game.
Previously on Harris Online...