The NFL has had a rough time of late. This month, Baltimore Raven Ray Rice’s battery of his then-fiancée resurfaced, when new video showed the running back striking her inside an elevator.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who previously issued Rice a two-game suspension based on an edited version of the footage, came under heavy fire, with many calling for his dismissal. Numerous people are now calling for a boycott of the NFL, ranging from writers to Twitter users to Joe Scarborough.
Then we learned the Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy took a voluntary leave as he appeals a domestic-violence conviction.
Hot on those heels, we have Adrian Peterson. The Minnesota Vikings’ running back faces child-abuse charges after disciplining his son with a switch. And Jonathan Dwyer, of the Arizona Cardinals, was arrested Wednesday on domestic-violence charges.
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None of this is good, but none of this is the NFL’s fault — even though Goodell conceded Friday that the NFL must address drug use, domestic violence and child abuse among its players. Rice, Hardy and Peterson behaved horribly in their private lives, so, naturally, their employer is at fault, the outraged public cries.
Individual fallibility is to blame, but here’s why the NFL is public enemy du jour:
▪ Critics lack common sense.
These acts took place off the field — this fact somehow escapes the naysayers. Why would it fall on the NFL, rather than the criminal-justice system, to discipline these men for private behavior?
Much of the criticism also entails bizarre allegations of a cover-up, claiming that that the NFL viewed the second tape months ago, yet handed Rice a slap on the wrist nonetheless. This claim does not hold up. As a private entity, the NFL had no right to the video, if law enforcement did hand it over, that would be a severe breach of protocol.
Other criticisms focus on the initial paltry two-game suspension. But a multitude of angles play into this, not the least of which is the NFL players’ union agreements, protecting Rice’s employment and income. No doubt, many of the NFL’s critics are also staunch defenders of employee unions — yet now cry foul when, for once, they wish the organization trumped the employee.
They think nothing of the public harm a boycott would cause against an entity responsible for millions in tax revenues and thousands of jobs.
▪ Liberalism loathes the NFL.
Liberalism harbors severe disdain for most organized team sports, which are far too alpha-male-glorifying for its liking, not to mention the nasty “no trophy simply for participating” meritocracy.
In the recent remake of 21 Jump Street, the popular kid, contrary to the stereotypical jock of yesteryear, holds politically correct views. In one telling scene, he congratulates Jonah Hill on sabotaging a relay track race, noting: “Organized sports are so fascist! It makes me sick!” And a recent Salon article attacked the NFL for its rah-rah “’merica, militaristic culture” — anathema to any self-respecting progressive.
▪ The outrage brigade enjoys attacking powerful entities.
Criticizing individuals becomes hateful bullying when done in excess, but picking on a rich, all-American organization is enjoyable trophy hunting.
▪ Radical feminists are bored, redundant and need a new cause.
Domestic violence, while a tragic problem, is a long-discussed topic. But somehow roping in a multibillion-dollar organization’s “culture” as the culprit? Now we’re talkin’ fresh!
▪ Blaming the NFL is easier than addressing the elephant in the room — race.
All three “wrongdoers” here are young black men. In fact, according to USA Today, of the 86 arrests for domestic violence in the NFL since 2000, 97 percent of them were of young black men. An honest discussion would face this fact head on, rather than focusing on the NFL.
Black football players often hail from poverty-stricken communities where violence is not uncommon. They may also come from areas where, as noted by Charles Barkley, spanking a child is acceptable. So while domestic-violence perpetrators come in all colors — and some of the worst cases involve white-male perpetrators — why not use this as an opportunity to have a national conversation about helping young black men escape the cycle of violence, a cycle in which they find themselves often through no fault of their own?
Nah, it’s easier to blame Goodell than have an uncomfortable dialogue.
Sorry, critics, but the NFL is not at fault. To search for blame where there is none, for boogeymen where there are none, is the realm of the self-righteous mob without reason or, worst yet, the self-righteous mob with an agenda.
Perhaps that, rather than football, is America’s favorite pastime. And if so, we’ve got bigger problems than Roger Goodell — or even Ray Rice.
A.J. Delgado is a Miami-based writer and lawyer. She writes about politics and culture.
Correction: Due to an editing error, the original article said there were 86 in the NFL arrests in 2000. There have been 86 arrests since 2000.