March 12, 2017

The Darker Side of Football

Gidi Fox ‘19

Every year, the American public is captivated by the thrilling sport of football. They love the excitement of incredible catches, spectacular defensive plays and games that come down to the very last throw or field goal attempt. However, hidden underneath the excitement and drama that fans of all ages love is the reality of an organization that constantly fines its players unnecessarily, lacks concern for their health and values itself and its brand over the players that serve it: the National Football League.
Over the past few seasons, there has been an increasing feeling that the NFL does not care for its players as much as it cares for its reputation and profits and has been cracking down not on actions that endanger players,but on actions that endanger its own brand.
A perfect example of this was when Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown scored a touchdown this season and then proceeded to perform a sexual gesture. He was fined $10,000 for making sexual references on national television.
Brown’s punishment makes sense; he was setting a bad example for young kids who watch football and undoubtedly look up to him as a role model. It makes sense that the NFL had to make it clear that they do not endorse this kind of behavior and it is understandable that they wanted to protect their brand from this kind of association.
What does not make sense is Brown was fined almost $2,000 more for this than he was for kicking another player in the head.
In 2014 on a punt return, Brown kicked then-Cleveland Browns punter Spencer Lanning in the face. Fortunately, Lannings was able to walk off the field uninjured, but was lucky he did not suffer permanent brain damage.
That the NFL would fine someone more because he made the league look bad than they would if  he almost permanently injured a person by kicking him in the head is alarming.
Another time the NFL issued an over the top punishment was during this past NFL season when the league suspended Buffalo Bills right tackle Seantrel Henderson for 10 games without pay for using marijuana.
Again, on the surface that makes sense; the NFL’s substance abuse rules state that marijuana is banned and Henderson clearly violated this rule.
But upon further investigation, a crucial point stands out: Henderson was using medicinal marijuana prescribed to him by a doctor as a painkiller for two surgeries related to Crohn’s disease.
For over two months, a man went without pay because of something he had to do to combat the pain of having more than 60 inches of his intestines removed.
If that does not cause longtime fans to pause in their tracks, there is also the fact that the NFL fails to look out for the health of players and even pushes back against and distorts research on the dangers of football to players’ brains.
Many players who have played for the NFL have suffered so many concussions that they now have permanent brain damage. Some, such as Bo Jackson have even said that they would not have played football if they had know the health risks.
None of this is to say that football, its fans, and even the NFL are entirely bad. Football is an incredible sport that has offered hope and joy to fans of all ages in times of difficulty and allowed the country to come together during times of extreme division.
It is only to point out that NFL does not treat its players, who dedicate their entire lives to football, with the decency and respect that they deserve. It is not right that players who make such incredible plays in front of the fans on gameday are treated so badly when the cameras are off and the fans are not watching.

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