The NFL just can't lose

Tuesday marks the official end of the first week of the 2022 NFL season, and all was quiet on the protest front. A league so obsessed w...

Tuesday marks the official end of the first week of the 2022 NFL season, and all was quiet on the protest front. A league so obsessed with issues that it’s literally the Donald Trump of professional sports — somehow keeps winning.

For years, the NFL has had a public relations problem. Well, they had several PR issues.

There have always been issues with sports brutality, concussions, and life-threatening chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). We now know –– thanks to autopsies of the brains of deceased players, that “memory loss, confusion, impaired judgement, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, parkinsonism and possibly progressive dementia” are all the result of continuous blows to the head. We also now know that another outcome of CTE is violent outbursts and self-harm.

Andre Waters retired from football in 1995. Soon after, he started suffering from symptoms of CTE and was later diagnosed with depression. In 2006, Waters committed suicide. He was 44 years old. Waters, a defensive back who spent 12 seasons in the NFL, was the player who brought CTE, and its aftermath, into the mainstream. Since his death, some 320 former NFL players have been found to have degenerative brain disease.

The New York Times cites a few: “Junior Seau, 43; Dave Duerson, 50; … John Belcher, 25, a Kansas City Chiefs linebacker who killed his girlfriend before killing himself in 2012; Aaron Hernandez, 27, a former New England Patriots tight end who killed himself after being convicted of murder in 2013; and Phillip Adams, 32, an NFL defensive back who shot and killed six people in April 2021 before killing himself.

Former San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson was found dead in February 2021. He was later found to be suffering from a mild form of CTE. Demaryius Thomas, a Denver Broncos wide receiver, began having seizures which ultimately led to his death. He was later diagnosed with CTE in December 2021. He had only been out of football for six months.

There was even a movie about the effects of CTE and the doctor who discovered it, and it led to a lot of criticism from sports experts about how they might not let their kids play the sport . And then…it just disappeared. A few rules have been changed, but overall the issue hasn’t stopped the behemoth that is the NFL.

Do you remember in 2014, when the NFL had a problem with domestic violence? We discovered (no, we saw) former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice physically assaulting his fiancée (now wife). When the Ravens were the only ones to know that Rice hit his then-fiancée, they suspended him for two games. When the tape went public, they removed him from the team. Rice has never played another down in the league. Since then, several players have been accused of domestic violence or inappropriate acts against women, and the NFL has done little, if anything, to stop those players from playing.

In fact, Cleveland Browns just made Deshaun Watson one of the highest-paid quarterbacks amid charges of sexual misconduct with more than 20 women. The Browns even structured Watson’s contract so he wouldn’t lose a lot of money during the suspension everyone knew was coming.

But there were questions, tears, even advertisements, and then…really, nothing significant happened. A new crisis averted.

Then there was Colin Kaepernick. You know what happened. Kap knelt down and all hell broke loose. There was another major discussion about race in America, race and sports, race and patriotism. Black Lives Matter stickers have been added to helmets and end zones. More advertisements. Black people said they would boycott the league – they didn’t. Kap, a quality player, has never had another job in the NFL.

It changed me. I no longer stand or put my hand on my heart during the national anthem. But I am part of a small group, because African Americans represent the largest percentage of the NFL viewership at 43%. By comparison, whites make up only 32%.

But there was one major change the NFL made that we can’t just ignore. In 2019, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sat down with Jay-Z and created something of a supergroup that gave NFL fans a G-funk Super Bowl halftime show, and black people who said they would never watch the NFL again changed their minds. The NFL came out unchanged on the other side. Nothing substantial happened. Crisis avoided, once again.

And the NFL remains as popular as ever. All I’ve heard this summer is how much people miss football. Hell, to be honest, I missed football – and I hate myself for it.

I see all the problems. I care about problems. I care about concussions. I thought back to when I played football in high school, and how my “bell” repeatedly rang, and even though I’m sure I don’t have brain damage, I’m scared .

I care deeply about domestic violence. I absolutely see how the culture and hyper-masculinity of football can spill over into aggression off the football pitch. I even think back to my days in high school football in Oklahoma, and how the boys who played that game were incredibly misogynistic and homophobic, and I couldn’t see anything wrong with that behavior at the time. That was all I knew. That’s all I saw.

I care even more about the issue that caused Kap to kneel. I care how black players are treated, like what William Rhoden calls million dollar slaves. They are paid well (but not what they are worth) and when they get older they may be given a position as an analyst or an assistant coach, but the likelihood of them becoming a head coach or general manager is very , very rare. The prospect of becoming an owner is unthinkable.

All the while, the game keeps growing and I’m lost. I can’t stop watching either.

It was foolish of me to expect anything to change. I believe NFL officials care about the health of their players. I think the changes they made to the game were born out of genuine care, but football is a violent sport. It will always be a violent sport. And this violence, useful on the ground, is difficult to contain. It takes violent men to play football, and violent men do violent things – on and off the pitch. It should come as no surprise, then, that these men are violent at home. And let’s be honest: the NFL doesn’t really care about women.

If they had, they would have handled what happened to Charlotte Jones Anderson differently. They would have taken seriously the claims 15 women made against the Redskins and held Dan Snyder’s feet to the fire. They would never have authorized the record creation contract that Deshaun Watson received to cross.

And even knowing all of this, even making sure that I’m socially responsible and aware, and that I’m on the right side of history, I’d be lying if I said Sunday football won’t have at least one TV on in my house ― and I can check just to make sure my team wins.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The NFL just can't lose
The NFL just can't lose
Newsrust - US Top News
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