Let me start by saying that I have been a football fan all my life, specifically a NY Jets fan. I have braved the coldest days I’ve ever known, sometimes sitting on an ice-encrusted seat, to watch Gang Green play back in the days of old Shea Stadium. I wistfully remember the Joe Namath era, he the one New York sports star glittering brighter than Broadway itself. Sadly, Broadway Joe is a memory now and seems to have come from a time of innocence, but maybe it is because I was so young and didn’t know anything but wanting my team to win.
Flash forward to our current era, and the National Football League has become something that has morphed into a miasma of drugs, murder, and mayhem. I think it’s time to face the facts – the NFL is like the Titanic, Commissioner Roger Goodell its incredulous Captain Smith, and it is sinking fast now. Ship NFL has hit an iceberg that is more pernicious than the one the great ocean liner struck in 1912 – it consists of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, and Aaron Hernandez, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. That should tell you how devastating this situation is for the good captain, who still believes he can bring the ship into port.
I hate to break the news to Goodell, but the ship is sinking super-fast now and unfortunately, just as on the Titanic, he doesn’t have enough lifeboats for all on board. So now we must invoke the age-old rule of the sea – women and children first. If Goodell doesn’t uphold that tradition, if he doesn’t seek to protect women and children from his crew consisting of many miscreants, then he is not just inept but he is as guilty as they are.
The great sportswriter Mike Lupica writes about how Goodell wants to protect the shield, meaning the iconic NFL logo and the entire lumbering mess that it represents. We do not have players who have just gone wild; they are involved in distinctly dangerous and criminal activities, so much so that it seems the league has sought to obfuscate (no matter how much Goodell denies it) or downplay incidents. How else can we explain the original two-game suspension Ray Rice received for cold-cocking his petite then fiancée Janay Palmer (now his wife)?
We can go on and on about NFL players and their sometimes criminal and other times basically loathsome behavior. We can list the names of guys who are gifted athletes and stars of the game but are in jail, have served time, or should have been incarcerated. How many more of them are out there that we do not know about because team management or the league itself found ways to get them out of trouble? We don’t know the answers but we can only imagine that the tip of the iceberg, the stuff we do see, is abhorrent enough to shake our allegiance to team and sport; however, we all know that the tip of the iceberg didn’t sink the Titanic; it was the concealed bulk below the water that did it in.
So what is Goodell supposed to do now? He is faced with the sinking ship, not enough lifeboats, and the reality that something must be done. By first and foremost declaring women and children first, Goodell could go out (if he is indeed fired or resigns) as standing for decency and the rule of law. Goodell should establish his priority for women and children’s safety by making it the number one rule for every player, coach, owner, and employee of the NFL – if you hurt a woman or a child you are banned from the NFL for life. This rule must be established and irrevocable. Whether players behaving criminally like it or not, with this rule they will never step on a field to play the game again.
The obvious dilemma for Goodell is that he sees the writing on the wall. He knows that potentially he will lose many players over the years because of such a rule, that the most lucrative professional sport in the world will perhaps sink not just from the iceberg hit but from the inherently poor quality of its construction. We fans have to face the fact too – NFL games are brutal, violent, and the stuff of simulated war zones. It is hard to ask people to play such a game and not expect them to be damaged, to be altered in the way they view the world.
We can also talk about the danger to players in such an environment. The issue of concussions has devastated former players (including causing some to commit suicide), and it took Captain Goodell a long time to deal with that mess too (as Captain Smith of the Titanic apparently ignored iceberg warnings). The league eventually admitted that the game is dangerous to play and tried to take steps to prevent concussions. This still does not stop the barbaric nature of the sport; it is the stuff that Roman emperors once dreamt of in the games at the Coliseum. As long as the roaring crowd approves of the brutality, everything is okay, right?
I think the veneer is lifting now. How many women need to be battered? How many children need to be? How many guns have to go off in nightclubs? How many people have to die before the NFL comes to its senses?
Some people may feel like it’s too late, and maybe it is. Maybe the NFL does sink like Titanic, and everyone turns to soccer, starts appropriately calling it football, and we allow that wreck to drop to the bottom of the sea. If that happens Goodell can look in the mirror and know whom to blame, but there are plenty of other accessories to the sinking of the sport.
For now we need to hear Goodell invoke “women and children first” immediately. This will put those who violate the rule out of football forever. It may not save the sinking ship, but at least the right people will get into the lifeboats. How Goodell will be remembered as the captain? As the man who saved women and children or allowed them to sink along with the ship? It’s his call but the clock is ticking and the ship keeps sinking. We can only hope that he will do the right thing before another woman gets hit or a child gets hurt. It’s your call, Captain Goodell.
Photo credits: getty images, nfl.com, Wikipedia.org[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B007SPPANM]