Missing the Point: The NFL’s Criminal Crisis

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By Matt Stallknecht ‘15

SPORTS EDITOR

 

Assuming you don’t lack either A) Internet Access or B) a Television, you are probably very much aware of the utter mess that the NFL is in at the moment. Between Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Josh Gordon, Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy, the league currently plays host to the most ingloriously prolific group of athlete-criminals in the news cycle right now. The atrocities committed by these five players over the last year (and for some even longer than that) are enough to make even the biggest NFL apologist take pause.

However, if you are expecting the rest of this article to be yet another attack piece on the league (you know, the kind that you’ve probably already read, considering every writer with a pulse has chimed in on this issue), then you are about to be gravely disappointed. You see, here’s the deal: one doesn’t need to read a 700-word piece to “get the picture” when it comes to what is ailing the NFL right now. The NFL has a group of players who have done some seriously rotten things in their personal life, and the NFL has done an utterly miserable job of disciplining said players. None of that is news to anyone at this point.

Yes, it’s not right that Josh Gordon got a year-long suspension for a DWI while Ray Rice gets a two-game slap on the wrist for beating his wife in an elevator. Yes, Roger Goodell has a history of handing down inconsistent penalties, and deserves to be fired (along with whoever else played a role in botching the Ray Rice situation).

Again, none of this is news. You all know this. All of those statements are facts.

But there is something that I have been hearing from a lot of people lately about this whole situation that, quite frankly, irritates me. “The NFL has an insert criminal behavior of your choice problem”. You can insert whatever statement suits your fancy for the italicized part: domestic violence problem, substance abuse problem, general criminality problem, etc.

I’m sorry but…no, just stop. The NFL does not have a “problem” with any of these things. Last I checked, the NFL has 1,696 active players. That list of 1,696 players does not even include coaches, front office executives, and other multitudes of people who are public NFL figures. Of those 1,696 players, a grand total of six of them have had issues with domestic violence in the past year. For you math majors out there, that is 0.3%. Do you see where I’m going with this? A few bad apples are spoiling the pile.

It is grossly unfair to the many players and coaches in the NFL who live a good, clean life to make huge blanket statements like “the NFL is full of domestic abusers” or “the NFL is full of felons.” When people say things like this, they are ignoring the real problem. What is this “real problem” you ask? I can tell you one thing, it is not the NFL.

The real problem here is the media. Instead of treating the NFL’s recent domestic violence cases as evidence of a societal problem (which is what they should be doing), the media (specifically CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and the like) have instead tried to spin the story to make it look like every person in the NFL is a wife beater and a child abuser, and in doing so have completely deflected the realities of these stories. To me, this is not only unfair to the majority of the players in the NFL, but it is grossly unfair to the millions of everyday people in this country who are victims of domestic violence.

Just turn on any newscast right now and you will see what I mean. ESPN has consistently replayed the full video of Ray Rice punching his wife in the elevator over and over again since the video was released. That is just disgusting. How does that help victims of domestic violence? If anything, ESPN is essentially glorifying that kind of reprehensible behavior by displaying it for the world to see in a sensationalistic manner.  The sad reality is that the major media outlets would rather show the shocking video footage and tell you that every NFL player is a felon instead of using these domestic violence cases to facilitate a frank and worthwhile discussion of the problem of domestic violence itself.

Is the problem becoming a bit more clear now? This is not about the NFL. The NFL cannot control what their players do in their personal lives. Some people are just rotten people, regardless of their profession, and there is nothing that you and I can do about it. Having the media skewer the NFL over and over again will not help the situation or prevent more domestic violence cases from happening again. It is not the NFL’s fault that Ray Rice beat his wife. It is not the NFL’s fault that Adrian Peterson is a child abuser. The NFL can’t control what substances Josh Gordon puts in his body. And frankly, the debate over whether any of these players deserve a 2 game suspension or a 16 game suspension just comes off as a misdirection of the real problem. I highly doubt that the threat of a year-long suspension vs. only a two game suspension would have prevented Ray Rice from doing what he did. So why focus on that?

Again, I am not in any way saying that the NFL is innocent. The league clearly has issues with consistency, and it should frankly be ashamed of the way that it has handled the Ray Rice situation. But with millions of people being abused every day, we cannot lose sight of the real problem at hand. Many people, whether they be the wife of an NFL player or the wife of someone who earns minimum wage, are being abused in this country, and that is a fact that should never be overlooked.

           Domestic violence is not an NFL problem. It is a societal problem, a problem that is far bigger than any one sports league, and we shouldn’t let the media convolute that fact.