The two weeks between the AFC and NFC Championship games and the Super Bowl drag on for sports fans and non-sports fans alike and are usually filled with mindless chatter.
This year, we’ve been treated to two big stories. The biggest, Deflategate as it has been called, involves the New England Patriots allegedly tampering with game balls by deflating them, which allows for better grip and handle on the ball, especially in poor weather. The other involves Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who refuses to talk to the media on a regular basis and now could be fined for wearing the wrong kind of hat to media day.
Most of you reading this (surely someone out there will find and read this, right?) do not care even if you are a sports fan. You want to watch the Super Bowl game and/or commercials, but the rest is just fluff. And from the title of this post, you likely expect me to empathize with your apathy about these news items while also trying to convince you why you should actually care about them.
Are you right? Well, no. Yes. Maybe.
The truth is that these NFL stories really aren’t that big of a deal. And that’s exactly why they are.
The NFL is the most successful and profitable sporting league on the planet, but it’s had a very bad year. The Ray Rice scandal sparked a national conversation about domestic abuse, in and out of sports. Fellow running back Adrian Peterson missed most of the season after being charged with child abuse. Defensive end Greg Hardy was found guilty of assaulting and threatening to murder an ex-girlfriend.
These are serious (and only a few of many examples of) stories that force us to reexamine the culture surrounding a sport that many of us love.
Against the backdrop of these more serious NFL-related stories, Deflategate and Lynch’s media issues seem insignificant. And they are.
But here is why you should pay attention to them: the NFL’s response to them and our response to them say something about us.
It says something about the NFL that Hardy still received his $13 million salary this past season, even though he was found guilty. It says something that Rice was actually able to avoid charges, despite being caught on video. He was even able to recover a few million dollars of his salary as well.
The NFL has had a year of bad publicity. In the two weeks leading up to their biggest day of the year, two things happen: Deflategate and Marshawn Lynch.
The first one makes sense to investigate. It does appear to be cheating. However, nearly two weeks after the game this happened in, we still know nothing. According to ESPN, the NFL is conducting a “serious” and “thorough” investigation. We heard the same about the Rice case, which was botched completely by inconsistent punishments and what it appeared to be a concerted effort to cover up evidence. Obviously, we can expect no better now, especially considering how much money there is to be gained from the Super Bowl.
But the more outrageous issue is the other big story leading up to the Super Bowl. Lynch has always had this issue of not wanting to talk to the media. Some have speculated he has a legitimate anxiety problem while others have stated he is just being obstinate. Who knows?
It’s crazy that the NFL allegedly threatened to fine him $500,000 if he skipped his Super Bowl media appearances. And now, according to ESPN, they may fine him anyway for wearing the wrong hat to the press conference.
Why should you care about these stories? Because the NFL is a powerful business, and it is quite clearly corrupt.
Hardy assaults and threatens to murder ex. He gets $13 million. Rice is caught on video assaulting wife and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator. He avoids jail time and receives an undisclosed amount somewhere around $2-3 million. Peterson also avoids any jail time and will likely be back on the field next season.
Lynch will get fined for wearing the wrong hat. The Patriots will likely get a slap on the wrist eventually, but not in time to interfere in any way with the Super Bowl.
Some would say that professional sports are often a microcosm for our societal values. Considering the NFL is a corrupt organization run by billionaires and millionaires who exploit workers, they may be right.
The point is that these stories, especially the Lynch one, show us where the NFL’s priorities are. And they need to change.