The recent developments regarding domestic violence in the NFL have led to a lot of finger pointing. Fingers pointed at the culprits themselves, fingers pointed at coaches who’ve botched the culprit’s punishments and fingers pointed at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
However, I believe this issue deserves to be approached from a different angle, I believe a finger needs to be pointed in a different direction: towards us, as sports fans. This is not to say that I we shouldn’t care about domestic violence, I certainly hope you do. It is how we’ve treated these players before they committed such heinous crimes.
Do we really believe that the only time Ray Rice committed a crime, he was unlucky enough to have it caught on video? It is surely doubtful. These violent crimes are not the outcome of one unfortunate angry outburst, they are the effect of someone with a mindset that they’re above the law.
This mindset is a product of not being held accountable for objectionable actions in high school, college and the pros. It is a product of a lifetime of being told that what they do on the field is more important than what they do off of it. It is created by a culture that values fantasy football higher than the content of a player’s character; that culture exist in large part because of the fans who’ve cultivated it.
This starts with our reactions to lesser offenses than domestic violence. The NFL Player’s Association and the NFL are currently re-negotiating the league’s comprehensive drug policy. One issue that has been agreed to by both sides is a one game suspension without pay for a first DUI offense—a one game suspension for a crime that can cost an average person their job and any hope of future employment.
Yet where is the public’s demand for stricter punishment for DUIs? It’s absent because a player’s value on the field is more important to us than them endangering other humans by driving under the influence. By easily forgiving a lesser crime such as a DUI, we fans are just as guilty as the coaches, owners, and the commissioner who let the player go with a light punishment.
When we allow these lesser crimes to be forgiven or forgotten, we only reinforce the player’s mindset that they’re above the law. We must demand strict punishment or drastic change before the players’ crimes reach such a magnitude that we cannot possibly ignore them.
My favorite take on the recent events in the NFL have come from ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, who said this two weeks ago regarding the Ray Rice situation: “Any games played by Baltimore without its executives and the Commissioner having been dismissed… must be fully boycotted by all of us. If not, we become accessories after the fact.”
While we may be the driving force behind the crooked culture in the NFL, we are also the only people with the real power to fix it.