A Letter to Roger

Dear Roger Goodell,

Confession: I'm a Saints fan. A fan of the NFL, too, but first a Saints fan, so take my letter with a grain of salt. People are mad at you right now.

Football is a sport that is violent for purpose, the full extension of the expression of so-called male aggression. As a spectator and appreciator (in the right contexts) of our collective habits, there is nothing right now more entertaining to me than a good football game. I know the costs to players, to both their bodies and their minds. And I know that when I watch the joy in that play, that salsa dance, that end zone climb to touch the fans and be touched by the fans, that Jimmy Graham dunk and punching of the goal posts -- that is what I live for. That, and not the Suh stomp on the head of a player already down. I watch and I love knowing full well the significance: the moral and ethical and aesthetic implications of this sport. Do you?

A year suspension for pot use? A two-game suspension for knocking a woman unconscious? Just following precedent? That's fine, Roger. I get it. Rules well established by precedent are the rules. I fault you not at all. In fact, were I you, I probably would have done the very same thing. Ray Rice was only following precedent. Josh Gordon knew the rules. We live in a nation that polices drugs but often encourages and enables violence within the home and elevator. So your penalties are fine. We should, each and every one of us, have expected just these penalties. And Bounty-Gate, too. Despite the fact that the unwritten rules of the sport dictate so much of the violence perpetrated by my Saints, paying players to wound or maim over and above the singular goal (to win the game) was extraordinarily wrong. You are forgiven.

But a leader, a "real" leader, whether in the NFL or in Podunk Corporation would acknowledge that precedent doesn't function to adequately enact values (or does it for you?). Precedent doesn't always follow science either. A real leader acknowledges quickly that rules must often change immediately. Let Ray Rice off with two games, but be sure the NFL does not encourage the next off-field beating.

A real leader would separate pot use from other drugs, would acknowledge shifts in our cultural practices and understandings of right and wrong. We live in a nation that allows (as it should) mind-altering substances within certain social parameters and those substances differ within states. And a person (like Josh Gordon) who uses his body's performance to fund his life must surely be choosing pot over other legal means to alter the mind. As a parent, as a person concerned for the best well-being of players at this time in history and in the context of the NFL, I would rather be honest about the realities of alcohol and pot. But this is not my point -- to make pot legal in the NFL -- only to appropriately penalize, to realize that because these two "breaches" by time and context will be read alongside one another.

A real leader would know that violence (particularly violence in a sport that demands it on the field, particularly violence in the NFL) must surely leak out of the sport onto the living room floors of those who cannot stop. A real leader of the NFL better understand the role of violence in that sport -- its uses, its value, its expressions, and its costs.

A real leader of the NFL should never seek to take the joy out of a football game by limiting dancing on the field or non-violent acts that express joy. Because that is the expression we want to leak from the fields to our homes -- the full, non-gendered, unadulterated expressions of joy that come in dance or other visual metaphors should never be limited or discouraged. It should be valued.

You do act quickly sometimes, Roger, and that is the purpose of this letter now. Drew Brees wants to play until he's 45 and, trust me, I hope for the sake of all Saints fans that he does because after what happened in NOLA joy is essential. But I note, with some irony, that immediately after Brees said he thinks he can play until age 45 you ordered or allowed a random drug test. Good for you. We want to make sure that there is no more cheating from that team.

Act quickly, Commish, find a way to appropriately address the inequities in the penalties and punishments in the NFL because rules are the expression of values. At a time when player concussions are finally being addressed (perhaps not adequately), when we are finally thinking about what it means to have our children play this sport, when it is in the public venue of football that America is finally discussing its problems with bullying, with racial slurs, with racism, with homophobia, don't you think it's time to appropriately weigh the right actions of players? And what, too, to leave to their own discretion?


Donna (a Saints fan from NY)