The NFL is in the midst of a player problem, and it’s their own damn fault.
Within the past six weeks, now-former NFL wide receiver Antonio Brown criticized his former team (the Oakland Raiders), threatened to physically harm his general manager, then ended up on a better team than before (the New England Patriots). After he signed with New England, rape allegations emerged against the wide receiver. Following one game with New England, Brown was released after it was found that he threatened his accuser through text message.
Brown’s story — that of a sports star being accused of a heinous crime — isn’t new. Recent stories have alleged that these accusations started several years ago but were buried by his former team (the Pittsburgh Steelers) and hidden from the public. This development is in line with football programs’ handling of crimes committed by players and coaches over the years — each time, it seems, the crimes are getting more and more heinous. So will teams continue to put up with it? Why would they go through such publicly damaging situations for someone who will help them win a football game?
If a team is more competitive, it can make more money. This is simple. So a player or coach’s “issues” may be overlooked for the sake of a better football team. In 2016, Kansas City Chiefs star wide receiver Tyreek Hill was drafted in the fifth round of the NFL Draft despite an ongoing domestic violence investigation against him. He has since gone on to become a fixture in the league for his highlight-reel catches, while simultaneously adding child abuse to his rap sheet. Former New York Giants kicker Josh Brown was released by the organization after it was made public that he had been abusing his wife. This isn’t to say that the team didn’t know; they only fired him when everyone else knew. It’s an even more grotesque situation with former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, as he was being investigated for murder and wasn’t released by the team. He was eventually released, however, several hours after being taken away in handcuffs live on local news.
If a team is more competitive, it can make more money. This is simple. So a player or coach’s “issues” may be overlooked for the sake of a better football team.
These are three examples of how the NFL condones violence and crime for the sake of their on-field product. As long as players add value to a team, organizational ownership and management will protect them. Their audience will do the same, so long as these players benefit their favorite team. When the news broke about Antonio Brown’s rape allegations, football fans were quick to criticize New England for signing him. They believed New England to be morally repugnant, but it’s like throwing stones in a glass house — these fans’ own teams harbor Tyreek Hills and Josh Browns, but fail to see the irony. They overlook their teams’ own decisions because their teams are better with these players than without.
It’s easy to see that America loves football. From Friday Night Light high school football to college football Saturday to any of the myriad of NFL games and game nights (the NFL currently broadcasts games on Thursday, Sunday, and Monday nights with some playoff games on Saturday nights), there is no shortage of football stimulus for Americans to enjoy. And they do. Of the top-rated sports broadcasts this year, football filled the entire top 12. On a weekly basis, football broadcasts beat out their competitors in time slots on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights, with competitive numbers even when they’re not leading. And even though the game is a seasonal sport, there is a major audience that demands more football. Earlier this year, the American Alliance of Football (the AAF) easily beat out its competitors in its first week of games despite a massively inferior product — the quality didn’t matter. Bad football is still football.
This borderline obsession that America has with football is dangerous. The leagues, networks, and teams all know that viewers will tune in to a football broadcast because they love football over everything else. And, in turn, players and coaches will act above the law, because they know their talent on the field protects them. And as long as the product on the field is somewhat enjoyable, people will tune in, and the money machine keeps on turning.