The National Football League’s (NFL) moral compass is deeply and profoundly flawed. While this has been evident to many who view the league with a critical eye, the Ray Rice domestic violence controversy created a moment in which the NFL’s shortcomings must now be nationally recognized and critiqued.
Football has become America’s most public echo chamber for several issues that plague American society, the most recent of which is domestic abuse.
After initial evidence warranted a laughably lenient two-game suspension for Rice this summer, Commissioner Roger Goodell, Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome and likely other league and team officials saw the clearly incriminating video of Ray Rice’s brutal and inexcusable assault on his then-fiancée Janay Palmer prior to its leak by the website TMZ last week.
It took until the public leak of the TMZ video to spur the league into a reactionary effort to save face which was far too little, and far too late – the current example of the NFL’s pattern of selectively looking the other way on truly controversial issues until its hand is forced.
On the issues of domestic violence, mental health and even homophobia and racism, the NFL has had recent platforms to make important statements, and it has failed to do so every single front. The NFL’s message to the American public: only do what’s right if you absolutely have to; stay quiet until your money is at stake.
Coming from the most powerful sporting institution in America, this sentiment both reflects and propagates a cancerous tendency in American culture – the absolute complacency of those in power towards the injustices of the status quo.
All this coincides with a moment of seismic shift in how we view football itself. It is now understood, according to the NFL, that nearly three in 10 former NFL players will develop at least moderate neurocognitive problems in their lifetimes. On the matter of head injuries, the league has been just as weak as on any social issue. If the NFL cannot act morally when it comes to the well-being of those who make it so lucrative, we cannot expect it to take a stand on any other issue of importance.
The amount of time the NFL has to spend spinning negative news and defending itself on-air is comparable to the amount of time dedicated to its on-field product. The spectacle of football has shifted from the field to the TV studio, the courtroom and the boardroom. Talking-head studio shows, commercials showing the charity exploits of the league and time-outs for severe head injuries seem only occasionally punctuated by game action. The NFL is now constantly backpedaling to protect its image.
The moral and ethical gymnastics needed to justify one’s own football fandom have produced a national cognitive dissonance in which we collectively tune out the many unpleasant truths about the sport and our society.
We owe it to ourselves to stop, look through the smokescreen of NFL public relations and evaluate what football’s establishment represents. Now is as good a time as any.