Football, the Reality

Hypocrisy abounds, along with the ugly exposure of interests and ham-fisted public relations, in the range of issues professional football has had to face. I’ve been thinking recently about how easy it is to point fingers at certain players, teams, and league officials, when there’s a larger complex of forces, including fans and media outlets (e.g., ESPN, major networks that carry football) that work together to create the kind of people that many football players have become.

Serge Schmemann, summarizing the news over the past week, puts this quite well in his final paragraph:

Disclosure: I love football, and when stationed as a correspondent in Moscow in the 1980s I had video cassettes flown in so I could watch games. But football fans can no longer close their eyes to the price the game exacts on the players and their families.

For one thing, there is no longer any dispute about the damage to players. The N.F.L. has acknowledged in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems.

Then there is that video of the running back Ray Rice knocking out his fiancée in an elevator, and the revelation that Adrian Peterson, perhaps the best running back out there, viciously beat his 4-year-old son with a switch. More names are coming out and more will surely follow, raising all sorts of questions about the N.F.L.’s standards and leadership, about the maturity of the players, and of course about us, the fans, who like ancient Romans in the Colosseum cheer on the latter-day gladiators to ever greater “hits.”

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