During the 56th annual Super Bowl on February 13, the NFL would do well to use SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles as a giant confessional to seek absolution for its sins.
Do not mistake yourself. I am a football fanatic. My children Michael, Jackie and Janet still recount the creepy specter of the madman in the living room bawling in front of the TV on Sunday afternoons.
Recent tributes to the late John Madden, the 6-foot-4 teddy bear of a color commentator, billed as the voice of the NFL, have helped improve the league’s image. Yet repeated clips of Madden shouting “Boom!” and using the telestrator to flag multiple 10-gallon buckets of Gatorade ready to douse a winning coach can hardly distract — and certainly not offset — the NFL’s egregious missteps with COVID-19, sexual misconduct, domestic violence, CTE, racism, and mental illness.
The list of sinners and scapegoats of 2021 is extensive.
Posting COVID-19 guidelines and lying about being vaccinated by Green Bay Packers pro pitcher Aaron Rodgers earned him a simple slap on the wrist, a $14,650 fine (his annual salary is $39 million). The idea of suspending a popular star with the highest quarterback rating in the league would apparently have been ruinous for television ratings and for what the NFL seems to cherish more than the health and safety of its players. , the almighty dollar.
The same “policy” of looking away facilitated Tampa Bay’s star receiver Antonio Brown’s return to the field of play after he was caught using a counterfeit vaccination card. Some of AB’s other recent behaviors – some criminal (the assault of a delivery driver and accusations of physical assault by one woman and rape by another) and some just plain weird (removing his jersey before leaving the Bucs’ game against the New York Jets) – avoided the need for professional help for the 33-year-old. Except, of course, in the NFL, the treatment can apparently wait until Brown loses a step of his blistering speed or has a total nervous breakdown, which could have been what happened at MetLife Stadium in New York.
And just when we thought the league and one of its teams had done the right thing for change by kicking Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden out for his blatantly racist comments, it turns out Gruden may have been used as a scapegoat by leaking his emails as a smokescreen to hide damning evidence of the Washington football team’s workplace sexual harassment scandal, according to an October report by Cody Benjamin from CBS Sports.
Distraction, in fact, seems to have become a tried-and-true NFL modus operandi, as in the Las Vegas Raiders’ exit of Henry Scruggs III just hours after he killed a woman while driving at 156 mph as he was under the influence. The quicker the ban, the more the public will forget the NFL’s failed efforts to prevent or treat alcoholism, the league’s biggest criminal problem. According to USA TODAY, from 2000 to 2017, there were 624 NFL player arrests, nearly a third of them for driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. But the league actually relaxed its alcohol policy in 2019, allowing more corporate whiskey and beer sponsorships and more alcohol advertising during games.
This is the kind of decision-making we expect from Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose priorities of money, power and politics seem to outweigh the interests and well-being of his employees. Like when concerns about attendance and pressure from then-President Donald Trump led him to ban Colin Kaepernick and other players from protesting police shootings of African Americans during the ‘National anthem. He would later apologize – while continuing to do nothing to stop the owners from seemingly stopping the talented quarterback and civil rights activist from playing.
Finally, there isn’t enough space to list all of the tragic stories of players who suffered brain damage and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, as a result of head injuries on the grill. The saga and the suicide of Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots, who was convicted of murder, was apparently replicated last year by Phillip Adams of the San Francisco 49ers. Adams killed five other people, including two children, before killing himself.
A 2017 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 90% of brains donated by former football players were diagnosed with CTE. Imagine taking any job where there is a high chance of suffering a debilitating traumatic brain injury.
Rule changes and better equipment led to a 30% reduction in concussions, but 172 still occurred in 2020, and more needs to be done.
Maybe the NFL might not be as violent or as criminal as Cosa Nostra. Nor as hypocritical and corrupt as the executives of Enron. But it’s a notoriously hot mess that gets away with murder by exploiting the love of its fans.
Apologies and promises from the NFL would make no sense. A justifiable penance, however, and a good way to begin healing, would be to donate all proceeds from Super Bowl LVI to the Mental Health Foundation, announce Goodell’s layoff at halftime, and spend the millions needed to lure Commissioner Adam Silver. of the NBA.
David McGrath is a former Hayward resident, professor emeritus of English at the College of DuPage in Illinois, author of “South Siders” and a frequent contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page. He can be contacted at [email protected]