Yesterday was a significant day for the NFL, on two counts. First, the league announced the end of football. And second, America agreed.
In a development that should be getting more attention than it is, John Mara of the New York Giants—who sits on the competition committee—launched a trial balloon: ending kickoffs. “We had a lot of discussions about whether we should eliminate it, and if we did, what we could do in its place,” Mara said in an interview he graciously granted to his own team. “There’s no consensus on it right now, but I could see the day in the future where that play could be taken out of the game. You see it evolving toward that.”
Mara’s nuts. There’s no other way to put it. Mara is fucking crazy. Or maybe: Mara is a businessman, who sees the writing on the wall, and that writing says “Ooh, football is just so mean and nasty, I don’t see how anyone with a conscience can support it. It’s just so neanderthal, don’t you think? Yes, I’ll have just one more cream puff. This coffee is just scrumptious!”
Like Mara, I can see the day in the future when there are no more kickoffs. That’s easy to imagine, because I can easily imagine a day when there’s no more football. And if that happens, it will be entirely due to the fact that people like John Mara, who couldn’t give a shit in a bucket about football, found themselves in charge of it. To them, football is in no way an American institution, and they are in no way its trustees: it’s a product, and they own it. If men like Wellington Mara and George Halas could see what succeeding generations of owners would do to the NFL, they would have strangled the babes in the cradle.
It’s not too late to rectify a long-standing injustice. But it may be too late to save football, because of the second development…which is getting virtually no press. CBS Sports reported it, though.
The four former NFL players who sued the league on Monday in a state court in Atlanta could be leading a wave of new lawsuits that cite the New Orleans Saints’ bounty system for hard hits as evidence that pro football didn’t properly protect its players from concussions.
Legal experts and trial attorneys say they expect more complaints against the NFL to point to the Saints’ scandal after the ex-players filed suit contending the bounty system was another example that the league “explicitly relied on violence” and neglected to educate players on the dangers of concussions.
The claims give the new lawsuit an “added vitality” if attorneys can use it to bolster the idea that there’s activity in the sport that goes beyond the typical violence associated with pro football, said Paul Haagen, co-director of the Center for Sports Law and Policy at Duke University.
Frankly, what this says to me is that Roger Goodell stepped hip-deep into the cesspool, and is going to have a great deal of trouble climbing out. He may even drag the rest of the league in with him. Because whatever rationale he used against Sean Payton also works just fine against My Lord Goodell: he knew about the “bounty system” in 2009, and allowed it to continue. He turned a blind eye, pretended he didn’t see it, colluded with the perpetrators: take your pick of metaphors. You’ll hear them all coming to a court near you.
I frankly can’t see a judge accepting uncritically the players’ claim that the NFL, alone, is responsible for their health problems (though I must admit, proudly, that I’m not a lawyer). On the other hand, juries are a totally different matter. Who remembers the multi-million dollar judgments rendered against cigarette manufacturers in smokers’ lawsuits? Yeah, they were reversed later on, so you could say the defendants won—at the cost of millions of dollars in attorneys’ fees, and the utter exhaustion of whatever good will the American people may have had for Big Tobacco.
The NFL could be headed in the same direction. As the sport comes under more and more criticism for its inherent violence (in other words: for being football), and both the league and the lapdog media cringe and whine and knuckle under to America’s reigning namby-pambies, real fans of the game are growing increasingly sick of the league. I would hate to see the end of professional football. I would especially hate to see the demise of the Saints as an institution. But I can’t say that my grief would be completely unmixed: I would love to see the NFL, and Roger “Honey Bucket” Goodell, get what’s coming to them. I’ll even buy the DVD, and put it in my regular rotation, next to Super Bowl XLIV.
And that’ll be the last money they get from me.
One way or another, though, Goodell and the league have a lot of cleaning up to do. The NFL, in its gluttony, has been gorging itself for years now; did they honestly think the cesspool would never overflow?