What others say: Seeing the NFL’s darker side

  • Sunday, September 28, 2014 6:50pm
  • Opinion

If there’s an upside to the Adrian Peterson situation, or, for that matter, to the seemingly endless police blotter of NFL players arrested in connection with domestic violence, aggravated assault, drunken driving, drug and gun violations, and other serious offenses, it is this: More people are seeing the NFL with eyes wide open, and that’s a good thing.

It’s not that professional football is without value to society or the economy. The game has, over the last five decades, embedded itself into the national character to the point that it defines Sunday afternoon (not to mention Sunday, Thursday and Monday nights) in tens of millions of homes. Two-thirds of Americans watch the games on TV. Having an NFL team heightens your city’s identity, and the economic spillover is considerable. The league generates nearly $10 billion a year, making it the world’s most successful sports enterprise.

At its best, football brings individuals and communities together, reuniting old friends and introducing new ones in ways that strengthen the social fabric. And some players and coaches truly are exemplary public figures and community leaders.

But contrary to what today’s TV ratings may indicate, the NFL is not too big to fail, especially if its darker side continues to gain the upper hand.

Since January 2000, there have been 732 arrests (involving 539 NFL players) in connection with various crimes ranging from disorderly conduct to murder. That’s out of a pool of 1,700 players at any given moment. Over that span of years, the Vikings have led the league in arrested players — 44.

That’s a scandalous amount of police activity for a team and for a league that tries to portray all of its players as model citizens.

But how to crack down? The NFL and its teams face a conundrum. Theirs is a violent game, and getting more so. The increase over the years in velocity and physical impact has been remarkable. Players are handsomely rewarded for the violence they inflict and absorb. It’s not surprising, then, that among those people who football attracts are those who may find it difficult to turn off the violence and intimidation when dealing with ordinary life.

Every NFL team has its share of bad actors. The basic problem is that high moral character doesn’t win football games. As long as winning at any cost remains the overwhelming priority, the game will continue its downward slide. Women will continue to turn away. More and more families will forbid sons to play football. The NFL will become eventually a base amusement for society’s lowest rung. Commissioner Roger Goodell should remember that the sport of boxing once held mass appeal.

For the NFL to sustain its popularity, Goodell, team owners and the players association should convene a blue-ribbon commission to establish a fair, consistent and transparent set of behavior standards. It should be clear to everyone what actions the league will take when a player is charged, when he’s indicted and when he’s convicted.

Standards should be augmented by rigorous education on what it means to be a public figure and a solid citizen. Salary structures and player evaluations should include components that reward good character.

— Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Sept. 20

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