Drama in the NFL: The Sport of Soap Operas
Once upon a time, the National Football League was an organization of brawny athletes who stepped onto dirt and turf without the white hot glare of media scrutiny. They played fair games even as they performed astounding feats of physical glory. Competition ran fierce, but the players handled themselves with dignity and afforded one another respect. In turn, the NFL built a deeply loyal fan base.
Fall from Grace
Unfortunately, football is no longer the idyllic American pastime it once was. Players have turned into divas who, when they’re not on the field, dress in designer labels and ride around in sleek, shiny sports cars. They date and marry young women who look custom-ordered: thin and curvy with dewy skin, bouncy hair, and chic, sexy clothing. Their homes are enormous displays of wealth – palaces of pleasure with personal bowling alleys, movie theaters, and Olympic-sized pools. As for public perception, these athletes are viewed as superhuman demi-gods, heralded as much for their entertainment value as for their athletic abilities.
But under the sheen of wealth, beauty and admiration is a cauldron of turmoil that has eclipsed some NFL teams and the whole of football. The players who once captured our hearts with their rugged devotion to winning have been replaced by men who feel entitled to fame and money. If someone should happen to give them other than what they think they deserve, scandal ensues. The stench of scandal is in fact so strong that these days, the NFL has become synonymous with murder, crime, and dishonesty.
Ray Lewis – the now retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker – pled guilty to obstruction of justice in the 2000 Ohio murders of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker. Lewis was originally charged with first-degree murder, but he gave testimony against two of his friends in order for the felony murder charges to be reduced. He never served any jail time and was a year later named Superbowl MVP.
In 2001, Rae Carruth of the Carolina Panthers finished his third season of professional football before a jury found him guilty of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. The former wide receiver had arranged the drive-by shooting of his pregnant girlfriend Cherica Adams. His 17-year prison sentence is scheduled to end on October 28, 2018.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick pled guilty in 2007 to federal felony charges involving dog fighting. He filed for bankruptcy the following year, at which time he owed an estimated $20 million to creditors. He returned to the NFL in 2009 and has been successful since.
On June 17, 2013, Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots allegedly shot semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd in Massachusetts. Hernandez may also have ties to a double homicide that occurred in 2012 near a Boston nightclub. The 23-year-old is in county jail.
Success Trumps All
Despite the increased presence of scandal – there were more than 35 arrests in the first six months of 2013, compared to 48 total in 2012 - the NFL continues to grow. This $9 billion a year industry does not care about players with integrity or high morals. It is instead focused on making money, a culture the players themselves now share - as evidenced by their lavish lifestyles. Even the fans know how to make cash on the NFL; they bet on everything from the order of the college draft to Super Bowl MVPs.
The implication is clear: nobody cares what NFL players do when the cameras aren’t rolling, as long as they show up for games and put on a good show. Support for young players is severely lacking, as these young men struggle to deal with their new found wealth and celebrity status. Instead, the NFL has turned into a good old boys’ club, one in which players and coaching staffs are paid handsome salaries that put them above the rest of the world. All they have to do is keep their transgressions hidden in the murky gloom of silence and secret. This mentality suggests it isn’t a question of “if” a player will get in trouble, but rather of “when,” because the sense of entitlement that prevails in the NFL does not stop at wealth and fame – it also encompasses the ability to do whatever one wants, regardless of the law.
Once trouble comes, a team of legal experts stands at the ready with a plausible defense. But don’t expect the NFL to step in and offer encouragement – at once, it will wash its hands of the scandal and pretend it never happened. The NFL does not lament fallen players; it only looks to the promising future of increased ticket sales and licensed merchandise. After all, for every one player who gets in trouble, dozens more are available to replace him and continue the legacy and façade of America’s most beloved sport – football.