By Katie Feifer
Like many football fans, I am tired of hearing about acts of violence being committed by NFL players. This is not the first time players have been arrested for violent crimes. There is a Wikipedia page for professional sportspeople convicted of crimes. U-T San Diego maintains an “NFL Arrest Database” with 731 entries that compiles “arrests and citations involving NFL players since 2000 that were more serious than speeding tickets.”
Outrage feels like an easy emotion in response to recent events but it does not contribute much to the conversation. There is a lot of noise demanding change, calls for Roger Goodell to resign and for sponsors to back away from the NFL. What is missing is a specific call to action. Quit watching games unless or until what? Here is what I propose: quit watching games and put pressure on sponsors until the NFL creates strict policies that are consistently enforced, conducts appropriate internal investigations, and holds itself to a higher standard.
After reviewing the U-T San Diego database, the thing that struck me was the lack of consistency. Penalties doled out range from single game suspensions to teams cutting players for similar offences. I want to know what to expect from the NFL when players commit crimes whether it involves drugs, weapons, domestic violence, or child abuse. Recognizing that there are different circumstances in every case, there still needs to be consistency in how players are treated, regardless of whether they are star players or on the practice team. Create strict policies and enforce them consistently.
There has been much talk from the NFL and teams about letting “due process” play out, with no explanation of what that means. Does it mean the due process of the judicial system or some due process created by the NFL? It looks like the NFL is hoping to hide behind the slow moving wheels of the judicial process in the hope that fans will forget about offenses in the meantime. The NFL needs to bring in outside experts to help it create a process for conducting internal investigations that will form the basis for imposing penalties or not.
The NFL should hold itself to a higher standard. Whatever else the organization is, it is an employer. The locker room, the field, and any other place where employees are gathered needs to be treated as a workplace. The NFL needs to thoughtfully and intentionally re-create what “football culture” means. Today, “football culture” seems to mean hyper-masculinity, violence, arrogance, and privilege. I will start watching again when “football culture” means athleticism, teamwork, leadership, and accountability.
I believe in giving second chances, when it is warranted. Playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right. Maybe there is not room for second chances in this game. I propose one very simple rule; do not let felons play the game.