Move over Barnum & Bailey, you’ve got some company. NFL fans may or may not have noticed, but they are now followers of the biggest traveling circus this side of The Ringling Brothers. Only this circus comes with 365 day media coverage and “performers” who have had a tough time staying on the right side of the law lately. To be fair, the majority of NFL players are respectable, law abiding citizens. It’s just been that lately, for every dozen or so players that attend a soup kitchen or children’s hospital, there’s a Ray Rice that eats up all the headlines.
The Rice episode has been front page news, not just sports section news. Roger Goddell’s unspoken goal upon taking the corner office on Park Avenue was to grab a larger female audience and take over more and more of the sports calendar. Well, my wife knows who Ray Rice is now and has probably seen more NFL coverage over the past few weeks than she had in her lifetime, but I don’t think stories like this are what ol’ Rodge had in mind.
Media coverage mirrors the attention span of its consumers; that is to say it’s not very long. Currently, there’s outrage over the players that inhabit your average NFL roster. Charges of domestic violence and child abuse with accompanying videos and pictures sent shockwaves through the league and the public. To make matters worse, Goddell and his minions, as well as the teams involved handled the aftermath deceitfully and incompetently.
This media attention will pass as soon as another engrossing story supplants it. The crimes Rice and fellow star Adrian Peterson have been charged with are despicable. But to say the league has a domestic violence or child abuse problem is short sighted. Two star players charged with crimes of this magnitude within a matter of weeks will stir up the national media and lead to talking points about the NFL being full of criminals. Questions were raised about Roger Goddell’s future and the state of the game moving forward. The latest twist came yesterday when the AP reported that the infamous video of Rice knocking out his wife in an Atlantic City Casino elevator was sent to the NFL in April, a full five months before it was made public. This was the video that reopened the case within the NFL’s jurisdiction and resulted in Rice being released from the Ravens and then suspended indefinitely. Prior, Rice had received a very lenient and controversial two game suspension from Goddell.
Which brings me to the fans; the force that makes this circus spin round and round. People sure have had a lot of opinions lately on NFL supporters and their fandom. It seems everyone is doing a piece on NFL fans, and whether they should abandon their obsession or stay the course.
Prior to the second video being released by TMZ, I’d say the majority of NFL followers had barely flinched at the Rice issue. I went to the 49ers/Ravens preseason game, which was played after Rice’s two game suspension had been handed down, but before TMZ got it’s hands on the video that rocked the NFL. There were TONS of Rice jerseys in and around the stadium as fans casually discussed options to replace his production while he served his two game suspension. This also came a few days after he got a standing ovation at one of the Ravens training camps. You’ll notice on that link that the video has been scrubbed from the article, but the article is still there. Pretty much sums up the sloppiness with which the NFL and the teams involved have handled this case.
Obviously, supporters of the team Rice plays for were more likely to forget and forgive, but league wide the outrage over Rice among the fans was lukewarm. Outrage on Twitter and a few angry columnists amounts to lukewarm in my book. By now, if that second video hadn’t been released, Rice would have played in two games already. Carolina Panther Greg Hardy would be playing, because there would be no outrage regarding his conviction of domestic violence. The San Francisco 49ers wouldn’t be receiving criticism for playing Ray McDonald, who was charged with domestic violence in August yet hasn’t missed a game. Nothing would have changed.
Of course, the second video was released after TMZ purchased it and the NFL, it seems, chose to ignore it. The NFL got weeks of unwanted attention and many asked if the fans should stop watching. If you watch an NFL game, do you really condone violence against women?
This isn’t a one size fits all issue. If you refuse to watch the NFL anymore in light of the recent headlines, that’s totally understandable. However, watching an NFL game doesn’t mean you condone any crime that a player commits. If I go see a movie starring two actors who in the past have both been convicted of a heinous crime, it doesn’t mean I support what they did. This is a societal issue, not an NFL issue. In both cases, the convicted should receive an adequate punishment and once that punishment is served, they should be free to go on with their lives. I love animals, but I don’t begrudge Michael Vick for being back in the NFL. He served his time and deserves a chance to continue his career.
As long as an entertainment organization is doing its part to police itself (the NFL in this case has not), then that organization should be judged solely on the quality of its product. Yes, the NFL is a sport, but more so it’s entertainment, a diversion for fans to get lost in for a few hours. At least that’s what it should be.
If there’s a reason to watch less NFL, or to turn it off completely, it’s because of the deterorating product on the field. Ratings are somehow still through the roof, as the NFL hands it’s referees a rule book that ties them in knots when trying to officiate a game. Four hours of zebras throwing yellow hankies all over the field is not what I call great entertainment.
Many of the rules have been instituted to attempt to protect the players from head injuries, another sobering aspect of the NFL. As I get older, I find it harder to watch a wide receiver cut over the middle only to get blindsided by a freakishly built free safety who runs a 4.5 40. Has the spread of HGH created athletes that nature didn’t intend? It looks like we’re about to find out.
As far as attending games, that has become an ever dicier proposition. Just last week, NFL fans communicated with each other in one of the best ways they know how, by beating the crap out of each other.
I’m an NFL fan; I have been since I was about eight years old. There’s a lot of good capital in my memory bank from watching and attending games. I still watch on Sunday’s, but not nearly at the rate I used to in the past; I’ll also be at the 49ers/Giants game at MetLife Stadium in November.
George Carlin once said “sports and television are a distraction that keeps people’s minds off how bad their getting f#cked by the upper 1%”. You could call me a hypocrite, but as I stated I don’t feel this is a black or white issue. I still consume the NFL, because everyone in life needs some entertainment. Football for a long time has been that entertainment for me, but I took it far too seriously like many fans do. The NFL is no different from the Real Housewives or WWE; it’s trashy TV.
I’ll still watch, and drink beers with my friends and marvel at the ridiculously acrobatic feats that these athletes can accomplish. However, these days it will be in smaller doses as the quality of the games goes down and the depressing effects of life after a career in the league becomes clearer.
Ray Rice will have his day in court. The NFL will endure this latest black eye and investigation into a possible cover up. Roger Goddell may resign, or he may stay in office. Meanwhile games will go on and I’ll be around to watch as world class athletes do things on a 120 by 53 yard field that I fantasized as a kid in the backyard of one day accomplishing. Only now, I won’t obsess over the results and minutiae of an NFL game. I’ll get my cheap thrills and momentary escape, only to return to my real life where performers don’t defy gravity and cheat death all within a three hour show.
Kind of like watching the circus.