Are We Not Entertained?
How American Society is Responsible for the Latest Trends in Football
Written by: Hashaam Jamil
When the world viewed the gruesome video of Ray Rice violently assaulting his then fiancée, outcry raged as the unfathomable was right in front of us. This is not supposed to happen. A good, almost great NFL player, with no record of bad behavior doing something this egregious should not exist. But it did. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Is that a bit harsh? Perhaps. A hyperbole? Oh yeah. But there is too much truth in the statement above that it cannot be ignored. Do I have the right to talk about it? As a writer with no experience at all before this piece, as a person who has never played a down of actual football, I have no right. But as a fan of the game that I grew up with and made vital to my life, I feel I have as much of a right to speak on this subject as anyone else.
And, as a fan, I’ll admit to being a part of the problem. I will talk about this subject as much as I want with passion and anger any day of the week- except Sundays. The moment when I sit on the couch in front of the television on Sunday may still prompt me to talk about the issues of the NFL until I see JJ Watt show his freakish athleticism and return an interception 80 yards for a touchdown. At that point the only thing that matters is football. The spectacle of the game does something every week that television shows wish could they accomplish: provide incredible stories, moments, heroes and villains. From noon until bedtime on Sundays, the only thing we care about is remarkable feats of strength, incendiary speed, and legendary heroism. And that continues for days until we hear of another wife beaten, child attacked, or gun fired. As a society we will always watch on Sunday, maybe a few tens of thousands will boycott the players in this lieague, but to the billion-dollar behemoth, that doesn’t matter. Tickets will be bought, fans will watch, football will be played, and fans will care less about the reality outside of football thanks to the surrealism of what happens on the gridiron.
What is the biggest NFL story right now in the league? Is the Ray Rice scandal still at the headline of Sportscenter? Or is it the struggling Saints, the rising Cowboys, etcetera, etcetera? Better yet, what would you rather hear about right now? Today’s America talks about major events for about two weeks before finding something new and shinier to gawk at before eventually getting bored with that as well. The same goes for the NFL.
Still, the argument remains that with every passing story of domestic abuse, the popularity of the NFL diminishes little by little. There is complete truth in the statement that none of the owners, nor the Commissioner Roger Goodell himself, seem to care. Currently the biggest things on the NFL’s agenda are about expanding the product, not fixing it.
Whether it is another wild card or 18 game regular seasons, Goodell only wants to expose us more to his game. And while many argue against either of these moves due to very real health issues, we all know that when it comes to football, the more the better. Extra games means more weekends for networks like CBS and Fox to get outrageous viewer ratings meaning more advertising and publicity. Networks control what mass numbers of people view and football is a gold mine. When 40 million people watch, it’s going to take something egregious to get that many people to not pay attention anymore. And apparently the weeks of terrible domestic abuse didn’t quite cut it.
Football is still played and the players on the field are idolized. While we have the likes of the Manning brothers, Tom Brady, and JJ Watt we also have Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and Greg Hardy. And there’s something strange about that. Prior to these stories breaking, there was little to no bad publicity on these great NFL players. They were role models. And they still are to some people. Kids playing the game in pee-wee football or high school still watch the plays these players make and want to replicate them. While coaches don’t want their running backs to be Adrian Peterson the person, they want them to be “All Day,” the unstoppable freight train on the football field. And when a 15 year old player hears the story of that player they modeled themselves after beating their own kid, it hurts. They wonder why and come up with excuses for their actions not believing that someone who mattered that much to them could do something wrong.
They might side with their role model. And they’ll keep playing the game like them. Kids will keep wanting to be like these modern-day gladiators despite their actions outside of the sports realm. That’s why if and when when Adrian Peterson gets back on the field, possibly in another team’s jersey, and breaks a big one, people will slowly forget about his past. Football played at its highest level may not make us forgive what the players have done, but it does have has the ability to make us forget. Like a child mad at their parents for not doing what they wanted, all we have to do is sit in front of a TV and all of our problems seem to just go away.
As a society we will always love football, it is the most American sport ever invented. And if the product remains incredible, we will watch. When was the last time you thought about AP or Ray Rice? When you heard about the ongoing trial? Probably not. More likely, it was watching the Vikings look like they have no offense without their workhorse, or the Ravens looking like a well-oiled machine without what was thought to be a vital cog in their system. Football itself comes first. The NFL players are just actors in a remarkable show and as long as what they do off the field doesn’t hurt the game for more than a few weeks we really won’t care.
It sucks to say. I’m as much to blame, but I have to say it. And Roger Goodell and the owners know it’s true, that’s why they are going to pump out more ads, more on-field stories and stay in the background until they know they are safe to make us want even more of this game. Because we are clearly entertained. And nothing seems to have the power to make us turn away.