Is there an answer?
Murder, specifically, is a deviant crime, and there is nothing to suggest the Patriots could have seen it coming in Hernandez’s case, despite his alleged gang ties. This isn’t about trying to bring sense to the senseless by turning one meathead’s alleged crimes into a symbol or trend for the whole. It is merely trying to understand how powerful leaders such as Goodell and Meyer can’t seem to control the misbehavior despite repeated efforts, making this look like an ingrained stain on this sport that won’t ever come out, no matter how much the powerful try to scrub it away.
Arrests are up 61 percent since Goodell took office, according to Thebiglead.com. How does one explain that? The most vigilant commissioner ever — a man who has thrown around unprecedented consequences and deterrents — failing big with his loudest crusade? The answer to all of this is … there is no answer to all of this.
And the very culture of football is one of many issues here. Football is populated by bad, bad men. And that is usually viewed as good — physical, intimidating, powerful. You have to be different and kind of crazy to choose this as a lifestyle, feeding your family by being more of a man than the next guy. The ego and attitude that breeds is helpful in this line of work, but dangerous in most other social settings, especially in the hands of the reckless — and reckless is what you have to be to choose this career path, given what we’re now reading about head injuries and given that just Saturday, the Cleveland Browns’ Ryan Miller left the field by ambulance with a concussion. This kind of work, it hurts, which can lead to the kind of self-medicating, drinking and drugging that produces bad decisions that also get you handcuffed.
You say boxing and hockey and MMA are violent and also hurt, but without this many of these kinds of problems? That’s true. But there are many more football players to get in trouble, given the size of the pro and college rosters, which skews public perception. Skewing it more is the extra scrutiny invited when Goodell is so loud about cleaning up his league without actually doing so, every arrest a noisier failure than it is in the other sports. A hockey player can be arrested without it being an indictment of the entire league’s conduct code. Goodell points to the statistic that his employees get arrested one-third less than men that age in society, but that is at least a little misleading. Poverty and desperation are at the roots of most crime for men that age. What’s the NFL player’s excuse? The NFL player not only has fewer reasons to commit crimes but more to lose for doing so.
And then there’s the entire free minor-league system for the NFL, contaminated and corrupt, all manner of soul-selling going on in the name of getting good football players, shamateurism supporting itself by filing it under “free education” when it is really just “free football.” Many of the players are in school merely to play football, and many of them wouldn’t be allowed in school if not for football, so the coach who takes too many moral stands on character or academic issues is the one who loses his recruits and his job to the one who doesn’t.
Facts are facts
Think this is hyperbole? Consider this: The last time Colorado was championship good at football, Sports Illustrated reported that one-third of the roster had been arrested. Ohio State went more than four decades without a national championship … until Maurice Clarett. Nebraska went without a national championship for almost a quarter of a century … until Lawrence Phillips. You can find links between arrests and compromised standards and winning all over college football, from those notorious University of Miami champions to the University of Florida ones who had 31 arrests in the brief time Meyer was there.
You can point to outliers, but it is much harder to find big winners without criminal complications than with them. Heck, in 122 years of football, Vanderbilt has been to only four bowl games but two of them have been the past two seasons … as their coach now uses a helicopter to find recruits in the Southeastern Conference … and last month had to kick four players off the team for alleged sex crimes.
Goodell will continue to be punitive, and Meyer will continue to be furious, and that violence will continue to spill right over those sidelines on occasion and into real life.
The rest of us can keep requesting that the gladiators please, please be more civil.
But how surprised can we be anymore when they aren’t?