Adrian Peterson is insane. Ray Rice is a piece of you-know-what. And the NFL, with all of its gluttonous and immoral behavior, is deplorable for letting monsters that have committed such heinous crimes play in their league.
What’s written above has more or less been the narrative in every sports column, television program, and talk radio show across the country. And the fact is, it’s true. The NFL, for too long, has operated unchecked in the way that it punishes—or doesn’t adequately punish—players who have committed fundamentally horrible crimes. Within the past week, the league has received its comeuppance; columnists and hosts from coast to coast have bashed the league for its insensitive view of the way things actually work in this world.
That’s all well and good, because it’s deserved. But there’s an area all the protestors and naysayers are missing, a group they should all be attacking but somehow, amazingly, are forgetting about—the teams.
While they represent it in just about everything they do, players are not employees of the National Football League. Their checks are cut by the teams with which they sign contracts. The commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell—a man who in the past week has received more calls for his job than Nicolas Cage’s weatherman—was elected and is gainfully employed by the owners of the 32 organizations that make up the league he oversees.
But the teams don’t want you to think about that, because it’s the teams, not the league, that operate with impunity. The organizations hide behind the shield of the NFL when criticism comes their way, or cut law-breaking players loose to avoid bad press.
That so happens to be just what the Baltimore Ravens did—they knew Ray Rice had battered his then-fiancée in an elevator, but it wasn’t until TMZ revealed the disturbing video of the incident that it was time to void Rice’s contract. You know, because dragging your unconscious girlfriend out of an elevator and admitting to hitting her isn’t enough to warrant termination unless there’s visual proof of it.
Or teams can go the morally-skewed route of the Minnesota Vikings—shutting down Adrian Peterson to gain favor in the immediate wake of him being charged with child abuse. Peterson, who happens to be Minnesota’s best football player was reinstated by the team the day after they were shellacked by the New England Patriots, 30-7. The reasoning behind the reinstatement, according to general manager Rick Spielman, was that the Vikings were going to let Peterson play while “the legal process plays out.” You know, because due process wasn’t playing out before Minnesota was destroyed in their home opener–not to mention, further allegations of child abuse against Peterson have surfaced.
Of course, there’s also the flat-out phony method, which the Carolina Panthers chose to employ. They deactivated star defensive tackle Greg Hardy only after Minnesota had done the same with Peterson. Like Rice, Hardy was convicted of domestic abuse for an incident that is downright disturbing to read about. And when was Hardy convicted? July 15. You do the math.
I’m not advocating the idea that the NFL is beyond reproach. The league’s botching of the entire Ray Rice scenario, from the lenient suspension to its failure to obtain the elevator footage before TMZ, is proof of the just opposite.
And I’m certainly not suggesting that the actions of any one of these players are anything less than disgusting and reprehensible. The population of NFL players—while bigger, stronger and faster—is a microcosm of society, and in society a small number of disturbed individuals break the law in ways that overshadow the rest of its decent, law-abiding citizens.
But it’s become clear through all the criticism and allegation that the entities controlling the employment of these shameful few are being blessed with exoneration when they should be damned.
The good news is, a team is only as good as the fans who stand behind it. That means we, as fans, have power over these organizations—the power to stop buying, stop watching, stop supporting when we choose. These actions are what teams truly care about, the only ones that will cause change in the way they do business. The NFL owners know this, of course, but it’s time football fans were reminded.
As fans, if we fail to place blame where it equally and rightfully belongs—with the individual organizations—then it doesn’t matter who the next commissioner of the NFL is, or which player draws national attention for yet another odious crime. It simply means that things will continue working as they do now.