Excitement is building for NFL prospects and football fans across the country, as the first round of the NFL Draft arrives this Thursday. As more and more attention surrounds these young stars and the NFL, I believe it is the perfect time to take a real look at the league. Although some people criticize the NFL for its many imperfections, fans continue to pour their hard-earned money into a league that promotes behavior that is deemed unacceptable in all other aspects of society. Now before I get started, I just want to be clear that I don’t think the entire NFL is corrupt. There are coaches, management, and players who are great role models, such as Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals. However, overall the NFL is the least progressive of the four major professional leagues and when an average of 16.5 million people watch a typical NFL game it’s important that the league is promoting positive messages, especially to the young boys who idolize the game and its players.
Rodger Goodell and the NFL like to pretend that they have the right “priorities” in mind and claim to promote the integrity of the game. But if the NFL doesn’t have one thing it’s integrity. Recently, the NFL has cracked down on touchdown celebrations, claiming that NFL players are “role models” and that this behavior is not “sportsmanlike.” However, when you have players who have been accused or charged with domestic violence still on the field it’s a little bit of a head-scratcher.
The NFL’s true priority is maximizing short-term profit to the detriment of both its players and society. To start, the NFL provides football players with second “chances” that most citizens would never get. Any citizen with a criminal record would have a difficult time securing a high-paying, high-status job, but we continue to see NFL teams draft players with criminal records and “character issues.” I’m not saying that I don’t believe in second chances; however, NFL teams only draft these players to maximize their own value, not to help these young men turn around their lives and grow into responsible adults. These players are enticing to some NFL teams because they will most likely perform at the same level as players without records but they will be less sought after. So when NFL players with prior criminal records or bad behavior in college make the same mistake in the NFL, can you completely blame them? They have been treated as stars there entire life and the NFL doesn’t attempt to modify the poor behavior that often accompanies the stardom. Some might argue that it’s not the NFL’s job to help their players become more positive and productive citizens but I have to disagree. As people put more and more pressure on companies to be more socially responsible, the NFL as an organization should also be held to a greater level of responsibility for its impact on society.
This year’s draft will most likely prove once again that there is an NFL team willing to set aside morals in order to “maximize” its current value. One team will draft former Oklahoma running back, Joe Mixon, who punched a woman in the face, causing broken bones in her face which required surgery. He was given a second chance by Oklahoma, but after he received a parking ticket at the university he ripped up the ticket and threw it in the face of the female parking attendant and then inched his car towards her as a form of intimidation. This might not seem like a big deal to some, but it illustrates how Mixon has not learned from his mistakes and will continue to display this behavior in the NFL. NFL teams should not draft him in order to send a message to young footballs players that their behavior off the field has just as much impact as their performance on the field. But it won’t happen, and Mixon will be drafted, once again sending the message that the NFL doesn’t value women equally. That might seem dramatic to some, but just think about how college and NFL players are constantly put on a pedestal and when they assault a woman it’s swept under the rug or the victim blame game begins.
Once players are in the NFL, the league does not have their best interest in mind. Once again, the NFL only has interest in maximizing its short-term profit, and therefore will do anything to make sure its players can play in every game even at the harm of the players. The average length of an NFL career is about 3.3 years according to the NFL Players Association. Players’ careers are often cut short because of serious injuries that the NFL ignores or treats irresponsibly with the abuse of painkillers. These players’ future potential earnings are also negatively impacted by their injuries. Currently, the NFL’s 32 teams are being sued by former players who claim that teams disregarded player safety and federal rules on handling narcotics and painkillers. These players claim that team doctors oversubscribed painkillers and failed to inform them about the risks associated with using them and their long-term effects. Overall, these former players claim the NFL has a culture that forces players to take painkillers and narcotics in order to continue playing, which benefits the teams and harms players’ long-term potential income and health.
This NFL season I challenge football fans to take a closer look at the NFL and decide for themselves if they agree with how the league operates. I’m not saying to stop watching the NFL but it’s time for fans to make some noise. Since fans pay the NFL owners and Goodell’s paychecks, and because money speaks more than morality in the NFL, fans have the power to make a change on how the NFL treats its players and what messages it sends to society. It’s time for fans to demand that the NFL change its playbook. In a time when many public and political figures disrespect minorities and objectify women, the NFL has the opportunity to move away from that negativity and help promote equality and respect.