This just in: The ranks of professional football players include many large and muscular men who are prone to acts of violence. We’ll have more on this sudden and totally unexpected revelation, but first our top story: Gosh, it’s hot outside! Is there something going on with the climate of the planet?
Is there is a term or catch phrase for the event of sudden concern and indignation over something that has been out in plain view for decades? Maybe some hip-hop phrasing could help us push together a few words made to be voiced as one. Like, “Oh yeah, that” could become “Ohyeathat.” Cops in Ferguson a little trigger happy; ohyeathat. Traffic is terrible and we’re building more offices and condos; ohyeathat. Guns, guns, guns and guns; ohyeathat.
Of course there can come a time when legislation finally catches up with public indignation, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. However, truly sweeping reform often has a kind of Russian nesting dolls quality. The more things open up, the more we see where we want change. After 1964 you could still discriminate against gays, keep women working for lower pay, etc.
Then sometimes reform or change never comes. Instead there’s a cyclical review of certain business practices or institutions or, as in the case of football, institutionalized business. A certain amount of noise and hang-wringing sustains for a period just long enough to get us on to the next thing. I’m sure the Vatican was hoping people would eventually go back to looking away when they finally conceded that the Catholic Church shielded, relocated, and provided protection for pedophiles and that massive archdiocese-draining settlements would be the least they could do.
So, now we arrive at this moment for the National Football League. The looking away from head injuries leading to medical problems in later life for retired players hadn’t even begun. Then Americans were fed a videotape confirming that, yup, some of that bone-crunching thunder of violence we cheer on the field ends up in the private lives of the players who are so richly rewarded for tackling large men and wrestling them to the ground. A report from AP and ESPN says that the NFL had the Ray Rice punching his fiancé video back in April. Pizza anybody? Who needs a fresh beer?
While the budget of The Mirror does not allow us to present it as one of their pie charts, USA Today reports that more than 700 NFL players have been arrested, charged or indicted since the 2000 season. Sure, you’d love to check those numbers against, say, Republicans arrested, charged or indicted since, oh, Nixon.
But statistics aren’t the issue in our current NFL drama. The issue is that football is a defining feature of American life enjoyed by millions and the sport – especially the product produced by the NFL – institutionally shields, relocates, and provides protection for violent men who without something like the NFL might possibly become career criminals. I don’t even have to drag out the actual number of former NFL players who, in fact, have become career criminals. Come on, you know all this.
We know it, we’ve known it for some time, and we’re not really discovering anything new during this current period of “Oh, my, pro football seems to have some chronic problems.” I’m not quite sure what, exactly, is going on right now with our seeming disgust at violent NFL players. Anybody who remembers watching the live Monday Night Football broadcast of Lawrence Taylor breaking Joe Theismann’s leg – fracturing both his tibia and fibula – in November of 1985 would be a little bit late crying “Football has as its central tenet man-on-man violence!” 29 years later, assuming you could fabricate a protest chant out of that statement.
But like finally facing the sins of the Catholic Church, maybe we have arrived at some kind of crossroads for football if not a redefining one. After all there are actual “rules” in boxing, you know, guidelines for beating a man unconscious with your fists. But boxing and the money it generates rolls on into the 21st century just as the billions of dollars involved in pro football flows like a river through our homeland. The Super Bowl alone yields $275 million just for the commercials. And that’s not throwing in all that licensing for “the official corn chips” and cola and wife beating – oops! It’s unpleasant when you align that with the business aspects, isn’t it?
Tighten the focus just a wee bit more, and maybe what we’re doing is decrying commercial-grade entertainment violence at a time when real violence is roaring and pillaging the planet. We feel helpless against the homicidal madness of war and the gut-wrenching return of primitive behaviors like beheadings. But a Minnesota Viking who spanks his kid with a stick? That we can weigh-in on. At least until we flip the channel over to Sunday’s big game.