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Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the NFL

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The Super Bowl is only 19 days away…and I couldn’t care less!

First, this is not about hating football – I don’t. I’ll admit the game is not my favorite among professional sports, but it is far from my least favorite, either – that space is reserved for baseball, which I liken to the experience of peeling off my own fingernails…slowly. But I digress. This isn’t even about hating the Super Bowl, although I do believe the gross amount of money pouring in to aid the super rich in their mission to become even more super rich is thievery for the quality of play the championship game typically offers. Again, I digress.

This is about the league, the National Football League, and my desire to tell the NFL to fuck straight off.

The NFL, as an entity, is reckless with and dismissive of the human lives that kill themselves on those fields to line owners’ club pockets. This shit goes back to days long before Colin Kaepernick ever dreamed of taking a knee. How long has Roger Goodell run the show? Their record of response on players’ addictions, head injuries and criminal violence has been abysmal. Their record as stewards of civil rights is even worse. And in that vein, I don’t hate the players, I hate the NFL.

These guys make bank, some for themselves and a lot more for people who have never taken a hit in their lives. They rack in that dough by leaving everything on the field, by pouring all their hope, desperation and anger into every one of those plays. They sacrifice their bodies and souls to play the game and the league is happy to let them do so, as long as they turn a buck. 

Although all professional sports organizations exploit players, the NFL really takes the cake on all fronts and considering that the league rakes in more revenue than any other one sports organization, anywhere, they can afford to do better. They just don’t give a shit.

Graphic illustration courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union

The NFL doesn’t fare much worse than other organizations when it comes to enhancement testing, but that’s not saying much. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the only big-game professional sport in the U.S. that adheres to the same strict testing guidelines Olympians are subject to, with random testing conducted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency 365 days a year. Performance-enhancing drugs definitely give athletes an edge, but the benefit comes with serious toil on players’ health and mental state. The NFL, like others, opts for less rigorous, private protocols agreed on with the player’s union. They claim their procedure prioritizes the rights of players, but that smells like bullshit they tell themselves in order to sleep at night. Suspensions do occur when players test positive, but by keeping testing to a minimum, they conveniently reduce the risk of players being caught and the league losing precious revenue.

Aggression is key to playing, and winning, football games. What works on the field, however, does not always work well off the field and when players are unable to turn off those aggressive tendencies, the results can be tragic in the public realm. Before the Ray Rice assault incident in 2014, professional sports in general neglected to create policies related to domestic violence among players. The NFL had to jump on board right quick in order to save their own public relations asses, but the problem continues, as is recently seen with Kareem Hunt and Reuben Foster. The league’s delayed and poor response to those two situations caused Deborah Epstein to resign from the NFL Players Association’s commission on domestic violence. In Epstein’s op-ed published in the Washington Post, she said she “simply cannot continue to be part of a body that exists in name only.”

Colin Kaepernick, former SF Forty-niner quarterback, takes a knee during national anthem. Photo courtesy of Red Letter Christians

Adding insult to injury is the NFL’s grotesque reaction to Colin Kaepernick and other players who choose to peacefully protest police brutality against black citizens. Kaepernick was basically shunned out of the league but established himself as a symbol of today’s civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements. By taking a knee during the national anthem, he hoped to bring attention to the daily risks black men especially face every day in every state across the nation. Faced with backlash from fans and some “bigly” politicians, the NFL attempted to institute a policy that made it possible for players to sit out during the national anthem, as long as they did so in the locker room and away from the cameras. The policy lasted less than two months but dominated the conversation. What was notably missing from the fervor was discussion about the topic Kaepernick was trying to highlight.

So, let’s review: the NFL doesn’t care about players beating the shit out of themselves, players beating the shit out of others or players being beaten by cops if they happen to be caught in public being, you know…black. And all of this in the name of ‘Murica! How is that a thing? How is that American or patriotic in the least? How can you sit back and feed their coffers when they so blatantly give zero shits about the players you claim to be such big fans of?

Unlike the NFL, the National Basketball Association seems to support its players in practice as well as in theory. Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has been vocal on the topic and accuses the NFL of using the anthem dispute to gin up some “fake patriotism.” Kerr illustrates how sports and social issues can coexist and how leagues can prioritize their players’ lives over the profits made.

For the reasons I’ve given here, there will be no Super Bowl in my home on Feb. 3, just as there has been no NFL in my living room all season. And it will be like that every season until the league gets its shit together and learns that without the players, there is no game. Take care of the people who sacrifice for you, or take a hike! Maybe Kerr can give you some pointers.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.