CHARLOTTE, NC, August 3, 2014 – Football is a violent game, at any level. The NFL however, is the ultimate expression of that violence, and that is why fans love it.
The National Football League is Sunday afternoon at the colosseum where gladiators bash, clash, smash and dash to the delight of millions of fans.
Pro football came into its own during the 1960s when the Vietnam War was raging and frustrated Americans were looking for a place to vent. The NFL gave it to them in spades.
But the very thing that makes the NFL appealing has characteristics that some players are unable to leave in the locker when the game is over. The competitive motivation that drives players to excel on the field frequently carries over to their personal lives. When it does, and it happens far too frequently, we get situations like the one involving Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens.
Every athlete, regardless of the sport, has an intense competitive drive that allows them to succeed at whatever game they play.
Combine that competitiveness with the violence of football and you have a recipe for anti-social behavior when players are unable to divorce themselves from their actions on the playing field with those away from the cheers of their adoring fans.
Does that make what Ray Rice, and others, have done acceptable? Of course not. But those people who condemn Rice for his actions away from the field are the very people who cheer him on Sunday afternoon when he makes a great play and then beats his chest to bring attention to himself while firing up the crowd.
Many football players have no inkling of how truly imposing they really are. They live in world of behemoths where all of their colleagues are larger than life, both physically and socially. Most have no concept of the 9 to 5 blue collar world of their fans. What’s more they are incapable of relating to it.
They cannot relate because they live in unrealistic surroundings where they are revered with god-like adoration. Fans wear jerseys with their favorite player’s name on the back. They call in to sports talk shows as if every play is a matter of life and death. In the case of an NFL player, size really does matter.
Tennis superstars John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors had similar competitive passions, but they used them as motivation on the court instead of off it.
People who have never played professional sports have no sense of how competitive an athlete is in every aspect of their lives be it a game of Twister or Monopoly or the sport in which they earn their living.
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell has taken a lot of heat for his slap-on-the-wrist two game suspension of Rice.
Comparisons have been made between Rice and other athletes who suffered far greater penalties for far lesser violations. Goodell claims there was no precedent for his ruling on Rice.
Football is particularly vulnerable because of the violence that is integral to the game.
One thing the NFL could try is making all players undergo mandatory counseling to help them adjust to the real world beyond the playing field. Obviously not every player has inner demons. Most of them, in fact, do not. If you want to probe even deeper however, some positions on the gridiron are more susceptible to behavioral problems than others purely as a matter of the skills required to be proficient at that position.
By making classes mandatory for all players, there would be no way for them to make claims of discrimination. The hidden value of such training is that it might resolve some potential problems before they begin. An added sidebar is that peer pressure could evolve from fellow teammates who recognize previously unnoticed symptoms.
Following that, specific guidelines with severe suspensions and harsh financial punishments should be automatically assessed against players who violate that league’s code of conduct. If baseball can do it with steroids, football can do it with behavior.
If the NFL does not do something to adjust the attitudes of players off the field in societal situations, then don’t be surprised when similar incidents to that of Ray Rice occur in the future.
Fans cannot have it both ways. Certainly, athletes are not blameless, but their lives are comprised of the pressure to win combined with intense violence nearly every day. Football has become America’s favorite sport and, as such, its player must perform at the highest levels. To do so requires 250 to 300 pound titans to ram into each at high velocities for extended periods of time when they are practicing and especially when they are playing.
The very aggression that makes players tick frequently carry over to their personal lives.
The NFL either needs to find ways to solve the problem. Otherwise fans should expect to cheer for three hours one afternoon or night of each weekend and then hold their collective breath the remaining six days of the week.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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