About a month ago my husband and I had a conversation regarding the NFL and the seemingly skewed nature of their suspension enforcements. Our understanding at that time was a player had just been handed a year suspension for marijuana use, while another player, Ray Rice, was given a two game suspension for a domestic violence charge earlier in the year.
Being from a rather liberal province when it comes to marijuana, not to mention the recent legislation legalizing of the substance in 2 of the 50 States, my husband and I agreed that the punishments did not align with the crimes. We were left questioning the values of the NFL.
Fast forward to today, and in the last couple of weeks the Ray Rice story has been exploded in the spotlight with the TMZ Sports release of new footage showing Rice knocking out his then-fiancé (now wife) Janay Palmer in an elevator. Hours after the “new” evidence, the Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice’s 2012 5-year 50 million contract and the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely.
So far this year the NFL has enforced 31 suspensions, not including the most recent Rice debacle and the pending Adrian Peterson child abusive charges. The suspensions have included violations for substance abuse, use of performance enhancing drugs and performing conduct detrimental to the league. Most infractions have included fines between $100,000-$200,000, but they have been as high as 3 million dollars, as in the case with Daryl Washington from the Arizona Cardinals for his repeat offense with substance abuse.
The hype surrounding the recent unjust disciplinary actions has had many calling for Commissioner Roger Goodell to step down with a social media push #GoodellMustGo hashtag. It hasn’t happened yet and unlikely to happen, at least not with the ratings of the league increasing and beating records set back in 2006. Even with a social media campaign to boycott the games and additional pressure directed towards corporate sponsors still supporting the league, such as CoverGirl, the opening game with Baltimore Raven’s vs. Pittsburg Steelers ended up with more than double the opening night ratings from a year earlier. Sean Gregory, from his TIME article Despite Scandals, The NFL Always Wins states, “Roger Goodell may get booted. More players will likely break the law. But these developments won’t affect the NFL one bit. Because even during one of the league’s worst hours, the votes kept rolling in.”
It’s sad. Even though most of us know it’s wrong- traditions, sport, competition and entertainment end up holding a higher regard than our values. Money tends to speak louder than everything, especially when it comes to sport and business. Most national sports leagues and major sporting events such as the Olympics and World Cup are consistently corrupt, quite the contrary to what the leagues and world competitions are meant to represent – fair play and competition. For me, much of the corruption present in sports leagues and athletic competition over the last few decades has boiled down to ‘a win is more important than human life’.
If the NFL, one of the largest revenue generating leagues in the world, wants to make a difference and change their image from the corrupt, money hungry, mens clubs that they portray now, they can start by reviewing their suspension policies. Even the recent implementation of a six game suspension for domestic violence seems lax. How many companies would keep staff on payroll if they were aware of a criminal record and an abusive nature?
Professional athletes are role models, idols, and celebrities that we prominently place on pedestals. Though it may be hard to maintain a clean image, it’s part of the responsibilities of being in the public eye and, generally speaking, they are compensated exceptionally well for it, especially in the NFL.
The league needs to take control of their brand and look seriously at who’s fit to represent it for the long-term success of the NFL. They are now under the microscope and honestly, how will the public react if more of the same continues to happen?
Football is not just a game, it’s a culture that is held in high regard in our society. The actions of the NFL players, staff and coaches, above all else should respect that.