Thoughts on the NFL, Domestic Abuse Culture, and How I'm Explaining It All to My Son

As a father and a football fan, I've reached a crossroads. My son is in sixth grade, and I find myself having to perform the all too common task of explaining horrible behavior in the personal lives of NFL players. The incessant media coverage of domestic abuse among NFL players makes it virtually impossible to avoid. The latest example, involving former Giants kicker Josh Brown, has left a particularly bad taste in my mouth. I have lots of thoughts on what I think he should have said.

Before that, though, I have to express my extreme discomfort in getting involved in any player's personal life. I'm old school enough to default to the setting that what happens off the field is none of anybody's business. You're a pro, and if you show up and dominate on Sunday, that's all that matters. I'm not comfortable with gotcha journalism that seeks to destroy men who achieve. The arrest rates for domestic abuse among professional athletes are slightly lower than those for society as a whole. The sports media complex holds players to a higher standard, if only because tearing them down in the face of a mistake is good for ratings. And yet, some of the behavior has been so unacceptable—and so widely covered in our never satiated news consumption—that it needs to come with some sort of disclaimer.

I don't think I'm alone in saying that watching the NFL these days has been less fulfilling, less compelling, less joyful. The ratings prove it, as Stephen Kruiser tells us. He notes that Roger Goodell's constant interference in the game of football is a major reason. I would add that Goodell's inconsistent interference is what is really driving viewership down. We can't tell what a catch is. The rules have become too complicated. I said two years ago that the VP of Officiating in the NFL should be replaced.

Perhaps the biggest factor for me is the inconsistent enforcement of arbitrary rules. Tom Brady almost goes to the Supreme Court before accepting a four-game suspension for deflated footballs, but Giants kicker Josh Brown gets a single game suspension for an egregious case of continued domestic violence. Ravens halfback Ray Rice was originally given a two-game suspension for domestic violence, but when video of the incident surfaced, he was essentially banned for life, despite there being no new information. Greg Hardy was given another chance last year, after his conviction for beating his girlfriend literally from head to toe was overturned.

All this controversy, of course, keeps the letters N, F, and L in the forefront of media coverage. Pretty convenient when the offseason lasts from February through August, during which time there is seemingly nothing for the media to cover.

I just don't think it adds to the joy of watching football.