I can't celebrate the NFL anymore. I can no longer get excited about a league when their billionaire owners take millions from struggling taxpayers. My enthusiasm for the team of my childhood is tempered by their inability to effectively respond to a public outcry of racism. I don't know how to react when a player falls limp on the field after a collision or stumbles back to the huddle because his brain was literally rattled. I can't abide the NFL's month-long campaign to make us aware of breast cancer while they pocket the majority of the proceeds in the name of cancer research. What's more is that I can't respect a foundation their teams choose to support when said foundation actively assists in promoting a lifestyle that is associated with causing breast cancer. What finished me was a coach in our nation's most dominant sports league commenting on his player who had recently punched his fiancee unconscious and dragged her out of an elevator: It was a "mistake," and he's "a heck of a guy."
Contact sports are dangerous to their players and that's the understood risk taken by those who play them. That's something I've understood for a long time with sports I played from kindergarten all the way through college and still to this day. I hope my son will enjoy the rewards and lessons that can only be gained through sports. I hope he enjoys the rush of speed and strength of mind and body. I hope he respects the risks. I hope he respects his opponents, teammates and fans as people because they are the entire point of sport. This is where the NFL has failed.
The NFL employs many men and women who by all accounts are model citizens and actively and sincerely invest in the well-being of their neighbors. The organization itself invests millions each year into campaigns against childhood obesity and in support of programs that encourage literacy. These are important things, but in the end, behind the scenes, is it coming at the cost of under-funded schools, players' lives, family ties and most recently the female image?
I don't have the ability to answer these questions for society, but I can answer them for me. I can't appreciate a league where a city celebrates the injury of their own player. I can't allow my son to believe that women are meant to sacrifice for the betterment of men and only to be paraded out if they look good while wearing little suits or if they're a marketing opportunity because they have/had breast cancer. It's a league of violence that has lost its self-control and apparently lost its ability to be shocked at the sight of an unconscious woman being dragged from an elevator by their star player who knocked her unconscious. He was given a lenient two-game suspension in part because his victim, who married him a day after being indicted for the incident, vouched for his goodness and apologized for her contribution to the abuse. Such a reaction from a victim has never been seen before, has it? Should this player return from his two-game suspension and take his team to another Super Bowl victory the league will paint him as an overcomer. It's the statement from the league that a good man who makes "a mistake" to the detriment of women can still be "a heck of a guy" that I can't allow my son to get used to. When he grows older I want him to feel pain when a man mistreats or even suggests mistreatment toward a woman instead of feeling irritation that the man will be forced to miss two "important" games. What's important is that my son learns a game is there to give him relationships instead of privilege.
A man's character is never a fixed quality. His character is constantly undergoing revision through action and inaction. I hope that one day the NFL will do more than just what's necessary as determined by their public relations department. Until that day comes, it's not that I'm deciding to stop celebrating the NFL. It's that I no longer have the capacity for it.