Sport and Society for Arete - Football Returns

No doubt you have been made aware that it is nearly football season in America. The college game returns with a limited schedule today and the NFL, already several weeks and season ending injuries into exhibition games, will begin the regular season September 7. For those of us suffering from temperatures in the 90s and high humidity, the chance to head to a stadium and sweat through a football game makes the long wait for the return of football well worth it.

The bigger news, now the norm in American sport, is to be found off the field of play. In the NFL that means Roger Goodell and the league’s many problems. There is of course the usual laundry list of drug violations, DUI’s, and assault charges that seem to have become nearly routine.

The biggest story from this category is the suspension of Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys for six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Elliott has been accused by his ex-girlfriend of using physical violence against her on multiple occasions in July of 2016. Elliott denies the charges and is appealing his suspension by the NFL. The appeal hearing will be held on Tuesday.

How Roger Goodell handles this case will be of considerable interest given all the contradictory actions and decisions by Goodell and the NFL involving cases of this type. In addition, by suspending Elliott, Goodell is creating problems for the Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones who plays a considerable role in Goodell’s future employment.

This is happening just as it is being reported that NFL owners are looking at a five year extension of Goodell’s contract as Commissioner of the NFL. That would involve a considerable increase in pay which, with bonuses, has been reportedly running between 30 and 44 million dollars over the last two years.

Goodell has done extremely well in bringing massive television revenues and stable labor relations to the league. This has made the owners of NFL teams much richer than they were a decade ago. Team values have doubled and revenue has tripled since Goodell became Commissioner in 2006.

At the same time Goodell has been highly criticized for his vacillation in dealing with player conduct. The league popularity measured in TV ratings has also declined in the past year. Which of these factors is most important seems self-evident.

The biggest headache for the NFL and Roger Goodell now is political protest. A year ago Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racism. Although highly criticized across white America his gesture turned out to be much more than many thought it would be. As the weeks and months passed players across the NFL showed their support for him and the protest developed a momentum of its own. College players and high school players followed Kaepernick’s lead as the protests continued.

As the NFL began its exhibition season the rioting and murder at Charlottesville, Virginia, became another object of protest. Then the President of the United States added to the problem by failing to distinguish between Nazis and protesters, and protest and murder. Athletes, like their fellow citizens, were appalled by the racism on display in Charlottesville and the reactions to it. Not surprisingly the number of protests in the NFL increased. Some commentators find added significance in the fact that white players have joined in the protests.

At the same time Colin Kaepernick was unable to find a job as quarterback in the NFL. While more than a dozen quarterbacks with lesser resumes than Kaepernick found jobs, and even a retired quarterback was enticed out of retirement, Colin Kaepernick remained unemployed. The tortured explanations for passing over Kaepernick only served to reinforce the belief that this was a blacklisting. During the past week a rally was held outside of NFL headquarters and the NAACP and others have asked for a meeting with Goodell.

Meanwhile in another of his disingenuous public pronouncements Goodell said that “It’s one of those things where I think we have to understand that there are people that have different viewpoints. The national anthem is a special moment to me. It’s a point of pride. But we also have to understand the other side, that people do have rights, and we want to respect those.” He should have added, “except for Colin Kaepernick.”

If all of this weren’t enough, the league is still trying to figure out how to counter the growing public concern over concussions and long term damage to the brain. If there is a threat to the future of the game it is this, and not the ineptness of Roger Goodell. Growing numbers of people are questioning the appropriateness of football for children, and some even wonder if they ought to be patronizing a game that is taking such a toll on human beings.

Beyond the NFL there is little relief to be found from college football where the hypocrisy of the NCAA and university administrators is an insult to human intelligence. The corruption of higher education in the United States rushes headlong into an abyss, as the increase in athletic budgets and coach’s salaries offers a negative mirror image to the decline in overall educational funding.

So strike up the fight song of Enormous State University as football is back and any serious questions and issues can be pushed into the background.

On Sport and Society this is Dick Crepeau reminding you that you don’t have to be a good sport to be a bad loser.

Copyright 2017 by Richard C. Crepeau

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