When I was seven years old, my dad went into town to sign me up for Little League baseball. I was so excited! I can still remember waiting for what seemed like hours for him to return and tell me all about when practice would start, what position I'd play, and what team I'd play for. Maybe it would even be my then favorite team the Cubs (hey I was seven- you can't blame me for my foolishness!)
I heard his car pull into the driveway. With bated breath I waited for him to come in. Then, like a blow to the stomach, my life came crashing down.
We had missed the deadline for baseball signups, so instead he signed me up for football.
Oh the humanity! My dearest daddy, whom I believed loved me with all his heart, was now sacrificing his beloved to giant men who would beat me to a pulp! Didn't he realize that I was too small for such a violent game??
But with trepidation I went to my first practice...and I was immediately hooked. And so began my lifelong love affair with the pigskin.
So it is with a sad heart, that I report that I am firmly on the fence, ready at a moment's notice to break up with my long time love. And the line that the sport finally crossed was its tacit support of domestic violence.
As I am writing this, there are five NFL players in the middle of legal fights over this issue. Most famously Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens was recently suspended by the league for an indefinite period after video surfaced first of him dragging his unconscious fiance out of an elevator, then of the actual punch that knocked her out. Though now suspended indefinitely, Rice first was only suspended two games by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Between the two videos came news that Greg Hardy, a defensive end for the Carolina Panthers was convicted of choking his then-girlfriend, throwing her around, dragging her by her hair and threatening to kill her. He is appealing his conviction, and is currently taking a voluntary leave from football (with pay) to focus on his legal troubles.
And Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers was accused and arrested in August of this year and is now facing felony domestic violence charges for allegedly beating his pregnant girlfriend. He continues to play while his case goes through the legal system.
Last week, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was indicted in his home state of Texas on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child for beating his four year old son with a tree branch. He was suspended for a game by the team, later reinstated, and later put on leave (with pay) after new allegations of abuse of a another child (born to another woman) surfaced.
And if that's not enough, just yesterday Arizona Cardinals' Running Back Jonathon Dwyer was arrested for assaulting his wife and throwing a shoe at their 18-month-old son. The incidents actually took place in July, at which time Dwyer also threw his wife's cellphone out of a window to keep her from calling 911. The Cardinals have deactivated him.
And this list is only the NFL. I could go on for pages on college players who not only skirt along the edge of the law, but go kicking down the door.
I do not, for one, believe that these actions are the exceptions that some want them to be. And I do not lay them all at the feet of Roger Goodell, despite how fashionable it is to do so.
I blame the teams. The coaches, the general managers, the owners, even their teammates.
See, the culture of the NFL has become one in which even major infractions in college and high school are glossed over and ignored, with the "glosser-overers" blaming such "indiscretions" on youth.
(Pardon me, but at what age do young men learn it is wrong to commit robberies, violence, and drug offenses??)
Every year around the time of the NFL draft, fans hear draft experts wonder whether this player or not will drop due to some criminal issue, and increasingly the top players don't fall at all. So a fresh group of criminals comes into the league each year, replenishing the supply so that the off-field mayhem may continue.
You see, winning is way more important than character. And that is why the penalties the league has implemented will not fix the problem. Just as with Edwards Demmings famous red-bead experiment, what is needed is not a way to deal with individual problems as they arise, but the NFL needs a way to keep the problems from occurring to begin with. In short, the individual teams in the league need to decide that character does indeed count, accept that frequently past actions do predict future ones, and make the bold decision to stop drafting those players whose pasts reveal serious character issues.
So I do not blame Roger Goodell for not levying sufficient punishments, as these won't change anyone's behaviors. I blame league executives that willingly make thugs millionaires, with only a vague hope that money, power and prestige will make a 22 year old a good citizen (good luck with that).
So I am on the fence. Oh how I hope the game I love will be truly cleaned up before I have to give it up altogether.