By Mark Esposito, Weekend Blogger
Good afternoon folks, and welcome to the sports holy day known as NFL Sunday. We mostly all love it. The collisions, the sparkling cheerleaders, the feats of athleticism that would have made an ancient Greek Olympian proud. It’s all there – drama, excitement, pageantry, bright colors and morality. Yep there’s bad boys (think Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens) and good guys (anybody named Manning or Russell Wilson) and there’s music – marching bands, pep bands, loud speakers blaring just about any rap, punk, pop, or country song you like depending on locale. Football is king! Long Live The King!
But the king has had better seasons.
From the professional gladiators to the high school gladiators-in-training, football’s morality play has come off the skids. The carefully cultivated image of athlete as hero that echoes through the centuries from the plains at Marathon to an Olympic stadium in 1936 Berlin overseen by a bad man with a bad mustache, yes, and all the way to modern day techno-proficient, thunder booming, firework blasting sports theatres, Football America is suffering.
Maybe it was avarice or a sense of invulnerability or most likely hubris. All of football was riding high early this year. The NFL was enjoying record profits even having the audacity to ask its halftime acts to pay it for the privilege of sweating it out before millions of Americans at home and in person. It was pushing the Old Man of US sports, Major League Baseball, from the headlines by moving its pre-season draft of players to prime time in … gasp … May, smack in the middle of baseball season. The colleges had just finished a game of musical chairs and chicken all at the same time and got the venerable, doting NCAA to approve a bowl championship, an acknowledgment of the 5 Big Boy Conferences, and the shunning of anything approaching governing the Big 5.
Yes football was riding high — but there were signs of looming disasters to come.
First, initial disapproval of a three-quarters of a billion dollar payoff of former players in an epidemic of head injury lawsuits that one judge and lots of players called “inadequate.” Then one of the elders (though he’s only in his mid 50s) of sports, NBA owner Mark Cuban, reminding us like the Oracle of Delphi that there are unalterable rules of American business and they are porcine-based (here):
“I think the NFL is 10 years away from an implosion. I’m just telling you: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And they’re getting hoggy. Just watch. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I’m just telling you, when you’ve got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That’s rule No. 1 of business.”
Everybody laughed and then turned the volume up so we could hear the latest thud of helmet-on-helmet in the coliseum of our choice. But somewhere in an elevator in Atlantic City, an off-campus room in Tallahassee and a ubiquitous freshman locker room in Sayreville things were getting very “hoggy.”
It hit like a maelstrom. A gossip site called TMZ published a video (here) of Baltimore Ravens star, Ray Rice, punching his girlfriend in an Atlantic City casino elevator. Though Rice drug the helpless women from the elevator in front of flabbergasted security guards all the while claiming that she just had “too much to drink,” the funny bounces of football were just beginning against him. A hushed-up criminal case that died in the graveyard of paper headlines and court record books just went national and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was called before the high council of football owners (which must have looked like the assemblage of the Stonecutters from that classic Simpsons episode) to the hear the song …
Who controls the British Crown?
Who Keeps The Metric System Down?
We Do, We Do…
Who keeps Atlantis off the maps?
Who keeps the Martians under wraps?
We Do, We Do…
Who holds back the electric car?
Who makes Steve Gutenberg, a star!
We Do, We Do…
… and to answer the easily anticipated question: “Who wants to see this go away?” “We Do,” came the refrain.
But it wouldn’t go away. What was so easily contained when it was mere paper-borne dry legal allegations became a dagger of misogyny when we actually saw the lightning punch, the head of hair flying back to smash into an elevator handrail and the limp body being carried from an elevator shaft like so much dead meat. It was real and the football fantasy of hero athletes was now officially broken.
The turmoil continued in the days that followed when a law enforcement official in New Jersey told the press that he had sent the incriminating video to NFL headquarters when the case broke months ago decimating the Commissioner’s claim that he had seen only the elevator hallway video that didn’t catch the punch. An investigation by league lawyers is underway but you’d have to go a long way across Gullible’s Island to find someone who thinks it’s an impartial investigation. The press (and notably Professor Turley’s msnbc bud Keith Olbermann leading the charge from his chair at ESPN University) is calling for Commissioner Goodell’s head, but there the tousle-haired Commissioner sits overseeing the Sunday, Monday and Thursday day and night parade of sports oblivious to Cuban’s warning. In a hastily called press conference imbued with all the political gamesmanship of Republican hack, Frank Lutz, Goodell reiterated over and over that we have to “get our house in order.” (Read about that here in an illuminating piece on the sports blog Deadspin). But in what was apparently missed in the spin meeting became painfully obvious when more and more allegations by other players came rolling in: You have to put out the house fire before you “put your house in order.”
The fire came bellowing in the door with the horrific pictures of a beaten child’s body. Minnesota Viking star, Adrian Petersen, was the latest NFL’er to come into focus for abuse allegations. (here) Claiming his god-given right to discipline his kid with a piece of tree branch, Petersen was first welcomed as Father-of-The-Year by Viking’s owner Ziggy Wilf and then declared radioactive as the public outrage grew. Banished to Texas under the care of famed sports lawyer Rusty Hardin (of Roger Clemens fame) , Petersen eschewed a plea deal and is determined to fight to the last man or child to clear his name saying in what must rank as the most obvious fact on the planet: “I am not a perfect son. I am not a perfect husband. I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser.” Well, true enough for the first two sentences from the father of six kids by a like number of women. We’ll see about that last sentence.
“And when it comes to domestic violence, my stance is not one of indifference. I stand firmly against domestic violence, plain and simple,” Richardson said.”To those who would suggest that we’ve been too slow to act, I ask that you consider not to be too quick to judge. Over the course of our 20 years, we have worked extremely hard to build an organization of integrity…”
Still Greg Hardy played on in that House of Integrity until the public outcry got too big and he was belatedly relegated to the “List.”
Then, in Tallahassee, SEC .. er Florida … a scandal for reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was rising from the ashes of a non-prosecution. Florida State University officials, shamed by their handling , mishandling and crisis management (their own crisis not the alleged victim’s,of course) of a rape allegation against the young star were goaded by that right-wing bogeyman, the US Department of Education, into actually doing what they should have done all along – investigate the charges regardless of what the Keystone Cops of Tallahassee did. FSU was also spurred by an investigation by Fox Sports (here) concluding that officials in its police and athletic departments gave confidential police investigative reports of the rape charge to Winston’s defense attorneys three days before the prosecutor in the case got it.
The head start allowed his defense attorney to get affidavits from Winston’s fellow teammate witnesses that served to exonerated Winston before the cops even spoke to them. Still a hearing is scheduled for Winston on four charges of violation of the school’s code of conduct. A former Florida Supreme Court justice is scheduled to preside at the hearing to remove the stink of the school’s last whack at justice.
For his part, Winston is upbeat despite a theft of crab legs (he says it was an oversight) and a grudging game suspension for leaping on a student union table and screaming “F–k her in the P—y” before the assembled student body. Jameis just led his team to a big win last night over Notre Dame, so all is right with the world in Tallahassee though the morality play got a little skewed. Notre Dame, you see, the perceived “good guy” of the college world has their own quarterback scandal in star pigskin thrower Everett Golson. Golson just got back on campus following a well-publicized cheating scandal. No, not the one this year at good ol’ ND in which 5 players were disciplined, but the one last year where Golson was disciplined and then welcomed back as the Prodigal Son. Notre Dame is ranked number 5 in the nation; FSU, number 2. Boola, boola!
And not to be trumped, little brother high school football chimes in with the most horrific scandal of them all involving that hoary football tradition — hazing. The Sayreville (NJ) Bombers and their legendary coach, George Najjar, winners of three of the past four sectional championships are suspended this season. (here). Seems the seniors have a novel way of team building. Seven of the team leaders including at least one Division 1 prospect (headed to where else Penn State University until last week), barged into the freshmen locker room, shut off the lights and then held down a hapless 15-year-old as one tough guy digitally penetrated the child in the posterior. Then in this temple of male machismo and anti-gay rhetoric, the hero athletes forced the child to place the digit in another body orifice. This little drill went on at different times all week according to prosecutors. The coaches, of course, knew nothing about it (and they likely didn’t though one New Jersey legislator isn’t so sanguine) having spent their time diagramming Xs and Os as the mayhem ensued. Oh, the seniors were charged with maintaining team discipline according to the coach. How’d letting the animals run the zoo work out there, coach?
Misogyny, child abuse, sexual assault, this is the score card for King Football this season. And still the crowds flock in, the money rolls in, and we are off to the game. Is Cuban right? Will football implode as the carnage among victims and their families becomes too much to bear? Will the torches and the pitchforks just get too close for the King to force His Royal Highness to finally do something? Anything? To protect women, kids and the players themselves the NFL will need more than the spin words of the Frank Lutzes of the world. It will need strong women and men in positions of power to rein in the excesses of male machismo culture and it will need a new script. One with morality placed back in the plot.
~Mark Esposito, Weekend Blogger
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