I originally wrote the post below in May ’10, with off-the-field incidents involving Ben Roethlisberger, my man Lawrence Taylor, and Brian Cushing in mind. Not to mention our secret (or not-so-secret) lust for violence in professional football in mind. I post it again, now shocked, saddened and even mortified over Junior Seau’s suicide on Wednesday. As Paul Daugherty wrote in his SI.com column yesterday, most of us “don’t know athletes. We like to think we do,” but “we just don’t know.”
Let’s see now. Big Ben Roethlisberger, the great LT and Brian Cushing have all found themselves in trouble in recent weeks. With the law, with the NFL and with fans from all over Football Land. The Fourth Estate and the 4.5 Estate (bloggers) have gone on, and on, and on about how these guys lack discipline, are entitled whiners and complainers, and believe that they can get away with anything. These pop-psychology ruminations are much more pop than social psychology, with some being down-right idiotic. The bottom line is, at the bottom of their tax returns, where the IRS asks for your profession, these players (or their tax preparers) write or type “Football Player” in that spot. And that’s all the explanation you need when it comes to criminal behavior, criminal-esque behavior, and just plain bad behavior.
To be sure, many of these players — and not just in the NFL — are spoiled, entitled, whiny, and do think that they can get away with more than an ordinary American. Sure, some of our reaction to think is colored by race, as the majority of players of two of the three major team sports in this country are Black. But while race is a factor in perception and entitlement a factor in general, the real problem with professional football players is the nature of the game itself, especially in terms of violent crimes.
We somehow expect people who’ve spent a significant amount of their time playing a sport like football to somehow turn off all of the intensity, adrenaline and violence that comes with playing the game and then act like normal everyday people. Most players in the NFL have been playing the sport at least since the age of thirteen or fourteen, with many starting as early as six or eight. Then, with college and the pros, tack on at least eight years of play with hits that would put the average person in the ICU. Yet, once their career is over, or at least, during the off-season, these same players must then become model citizens. Are you kidding me?
For most Americans, few things in our lives are more violent than watching a football game. Police officers, soldiers in combat, and boxers are the only ones who may well experience more violence. And all available research shows how difficult it is for a human being to constantly engage in violent acts and then adjust to a normal life setting (whatever that means). So it should be obvious that a professional football player would have the same kind of troubles, as say, a retired boxer or an undercover detective in
transitioning between his world and ours.
In many ways, the most popular sport in our country gives us as much of a fix as it does for the players engaged in the sport. In this sense, there isn’t much of a difference between being an NFL player or being a gladiator during the times of the Roman Empire. Both celebrated, both reviled, both part of our societal hypocrisy over their criminal acts (alleged and actual). Ben will be forgiven once the Steelers start living again, while Cushing’s use of HCG will be forgotten by training camp. LT will at least be defended by many until actual proof is provided of guilt or innocent.
I’m hardly condoning anyone’s actions, on or off the field of play. But, as long as we keep buying the tickets, jerseys, cable packages, and the beer, all we’ll be doing is supporting the violent and sometimes bloody business of professional football. We can’t have our cake and then eat it too, especially in these cases, even though we’re trying to.