Sunday, September 2, 2012

Will the NFL Finally Lose Its Teflon Coating?

As a longtime observer of the sporting scene, I've always been a little amazed at how the NFL keeps avoiding permanent damage from major scandals and mistakes, while other sports -especially baseball- get torn apart by the media.  Take steroids, for instance.  In baseball, the PED scandal led to Congressional hearings and many high-profile court cases, and has hurt the chances for the Hall of Fame by untainted players like Jeff Bagwell, due to paranoia about cheating and the feeling that the whole "Steroids Era" ought to be written off.  Said era lasted maybe fifteen years from 1992 onwards.  By contrast, steroids were given out like candy in the NFL all the way back in the 1960shelped the Pittsburgh Steelers win four Super Bowls in the 1970s, and most certainly have something to do with the inhuman physiques of many contemporary players, but steroid abuse in pro football is rarely ever discussed.

More recent scandals have hit the press, but not with the same impact as the steroids drama in baseball or the Sandusky case in regards to college football.  For the past few years now there have been repeated stories about ex-NFL stars committing suicide after enduring years of concussions, and in some cases those players requested that their brains be studied after their deaths!  If you ask me, tales of a few outfielders juicing up are a lot less significant than the human casualties of an often sport.  Many retired players saved the horrors of brain damage and dementia find their bodies ravaged by the game, and often without enough money to support themselves.  The team owners in America's most lucrative sport are criminally, cruelly stingy when it comes to compensating the broken men who built up the game back in the day while being paid peanuts.

Along with the growing evidence of the human consequences of the NFL's technocratic violence, this off-season brought us news of the New Orleans Saints' bounty program, which rewarded players for injuring their opponents.  Unlike in hockey, where a specific violent incident or violent team can be used to criticize the sport at large or lead to criminal prosecution, the media has mostly put the spotlight on the Saints, and not on the NFL as a whole.  Perhaps pro football is such a cash cow that the newspapers and networks are afraid to say anything to hurt the sport and jeopardize their own revenue stream.

Beyond these recent scandals, there are plenty of long-term scandals unique to the NFL that never seem to dim its luster as America's most popular and beloved spectator sport.  For starters, it's a well-known fact that pro football owes much of its rise in popularity and massive revenues to illegal gambling.  The evidence is out in the open: the betting lines for pro football are openly discussed in its media coverage, and the sport's arcane injury reports ["probable," "doubtful," "questionable" etc.] were devised to make betting decisions easier for gamblers.  Baseball has worked hard in recent decades to keep teams from moving from city to city, with the exception being an Expos franchise that had lost fan support.  In the the past thirty years in the NFL, owners of storied franchises have either moved their teams despite having famously loyal fans (Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns) or have extorted local governments to build unnecessary stadiums on their behalf by threatening to move (Minnesota Vikings.)  The man who for years sang the theme song for their showcase Monday Night Football game (Hank Williams, Jr), is a vile, hateful bigot.  They have a franchise called The Redskins, for crying out loud, whose original owner was a white supremacist who refused to field black players.

It's not that the NFL is that much worse than other sports when it comes to scandalous, immoral behavior.  Hell, what goes on there is nothing compared to what an average team in the SEC does over the course of a gameday weekend.  However, it's time to question the NFL's nauseating tendency to wrap itself in the American flag and hold itself above other sports, and to start asking some hard questions about a game that chews up too many players' lives and exploits the loyalties of too many fans.

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