Tarnished Shield

[ported from medium.com]

The shield continues to crumble.

The slow, progressive fall of the NFL is upon us. Like the fall of most empires, it would be too easy to place the blame for the slow progressive fall of the NFL on its figurehead (the commissioner) as it would be unfair to heap all the blame on any single entity or person.

In fact, the culprit here is all of us. Every football fan, every media content outlet, every analyst or expert. We are all guilty. After all, the league and major mainstream media outlets have simply provided us with the exciting, high scoring game we kept clamoring for and the sort of stories that we continuously thirst for. They have given us exactly what we wanted: WWE on a gridiron.

We want stories about players battling addiction, on the verge of utter collapse, an ESPN 30–30 documentary being written before our eyes. Something not boring like our own lives, that is, since it’s often the same people that are suddenly able to judge Gordon like they’ve never had a job where they technically weren’t supposed to smoke any marijuana and did so anyway, drug testing or not. Nevermind that he is 23.

We feel compelled to force Marshawn Lynch to talk to the media even though he clearly doesn’t want to and then attack him across the blogosphere and in social media for being a “selfish idiot with no class” because he has contractual obligations no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable he may be in front of a bunch of aggressive reporters. And yet, we know nothing about him or the great work he does in the community of Oakland and how incredibly loved he is as a teammate (despite maddeningly innaccurate stories about rifts with teammates and coaches and ownership). Not to mention, he has always done all the talking that has ever been needed on the field where our interest as football fans ought to be.

We call Richard Sherman a “classless thug” even though he is sharper than most of the hack journalists asking him unoriginal, regurgitated presser fodder. We just don’t like that he is real, outspoken and unabashedly unafraid to tell us all how fake we have become, how ruthlessly judgmental and out of touch our perception of these professional athletes has become. They are fantasy team fillers, a stack of stats in a human body, faceless names, jerseys to hang in our closet. Forget that they have families, friends and lives so much like our own, they don’t want us peering in any more than we do. But alas, they clearly exist only to entertain us.

We gravitate towards idiotic distractions like #deflategate because we are bored at work and don’t know or care enough about the X’s and O’s of the game and would rather spend all day bashing each other on social media. We want New England’s legacy to be tarnished because we are all jealous, full of hate and have been drinking the NFL’s koolaid about parity and “sportsmanship.” We claim it’s for the integrity of the game and that “cheaters never prosper” and yet turn our eyes away when we realize our favorite teams likely do the same thing but haven’t been caught. But, naturally, we need a villain. And so we are given one.

And even then, Brady is our hero. We love good ol underdogs and all-American guys like him and Peyton. They always give us the script we want to hear before and after games and we describe them as unflappable and strong and high character. They never disparage anyone at the podium, never point the finger at anyone else but themselves, they are model citizens all the while hiding behind smiles and endorsements and commercials. And yet, we see that nobody is above the stink. Brady screams at players and coaches and refs. He talks trash to opponents. He may have deflated balls to gain an advantage and lied about. Who knows what else this man has done as he’s human just like the rest of us, flawed and “classless.” The double standard has become nauseating.

We thrive on observing Ray Rice’s personal life troubles as though he punched his wife in the middle of a football field, like we have some unalienable entitlement to judge their relationship or his morality when we are nothing more than mere fans in an endless, faceless crowd. What ought to have been none of our business was all over the news. Hell, TMZ has now become a credible news outlet. And worse even is that while we all bickered and argued over the league’s role in this case, the underlying horror of domestic violence was bankrolling countless media outlets broadcasting the story. Would you appreciate it if someone made a quick buck out of your unfortunate family tragedy?

We all jumped in abject horror at Adrian Peterson beating his kids because undoubtedly none of us have ever been beaten or have beaten our children. We have never been in that place where the pain we have inflicted, emotional or physical, on a loved one did not actually mean we didn’t love them or be loved enough by them to be forgiven by them for this mistake. Where the court of law exonerated him, the league was compelled to then go and play judge and jury. We want Peterson out of the league, tarred and feathered and dragged through the streets like a leprous criminal. Better him than us, right?

We destroy young prospects before they ever get a chance to grow, develop and learn how to contribute to the legacy of the game with their unmistakable gifts. Johnny Football, Tim Tebow, Jamarcus Russell and many, many more. We hype them up, place unnaturally high unattainable expectations, we put them in positions where they cannot succeed with pressure that they cannot match with at a young, confusing age and then destroy them utterly when they fall short of it, nipping their confidence in the bud, stunting whatever momentum they may have had (if any) and turning them into outcasts in short order.

And we indicted this young man here, Josh Gordon, for, what, smoking marijuana? Having a couple of beers on a plane with his teammates/friends on the way to Vegas after the season had ended? Because some knucklehead in the NFL front office thought it was a brilliant idea to have an alcohol test waiting for him on the ground… in Vegas?? In the real world, outside of the circus that has become the NFL, that is called entrapment whether it is an officially administered one or not. So now even more knuckleheads like Barkley (whom I normally love and respect), Stephen A Smith (smh @ you, man, what happened? You used to be a great journalist with a penchant for being “real” and now you’re as fake as the rest of them) and the ilk have creative license to make stuff up to feed ever-so-precious ratings, to feed the frenzied mob of spoiled, entitled millennials thirsty for something more interesting than their boring personal lives. FAIL.

I stand by Josh Gordon. I stand by what he stands for… like Ricky Williams, like Lynch, like Kluwe before he was run out the league for having an opinion, like any other player who dared to be real and not give the same tired responses to the same tired questions. I’ll voice what they are being muted from voicing by rules and stipulations more befitting of high school kids than grown men, that the NFL is hypocritical and their micromanagement intrusive. We turned a passion for a game into a means to make money off of talented young men before discarding their broken bodies onto a growing heap of skeletons we’d rather stayed hidden in an outdated closet. Except the double-edged sword that is social media and technology allows no such reprieve.

The NFL has created a product and they want you, Josh Gordon, to be an action figure on a shelf with a price tag. And I am proud of you for speaking your mind in a respectful, intelligent manner that indicates, at least to me, that you are without a doubt not what they say you are.

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