With desperate times come desperate measures, and the National Football League is undoubtedly mired in the former and possibly employing the latter this week.
Beginning during the 2016 NFL season with Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem, the league has been under severe cultural and financial stress. The action, which Kaepernick meant as a call to arms against American police forces, spread like wildfire throughout the league among players who otherwise would not have found themselves the subject of conversation on the suddenly political ESPN “sports” network.
Then, in 2017, President Trump weighed in on the petulant and widespread protests, inspiring a whole new batch of “resistance” rats to join in. The NFL was now completely doomed by their own unwillingness to take actions against the Anthem kneelers despite more than significant pressure from patriotic Americans and fans to do so.
Now, in the midst of a season that has been harangued by abysmal ratings and an enormous lack of tickets being sold, the NFL conveniently has one of the more interesting games in recent memory occur…all at the expense of their players’ health.
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“The body count included a pair of young men carted off on stretchers and still more knocked out with serious injuries. Some were a result of routine plays that embody football’s existential risks, others were the offspring of more sinister intentions. Who can say, as the medics rush the field before a hushed stadium or from the antiseptic fluorescent buzz of a hospital room, which brand of violence is more concerning? Does it even matter?
“One thing’s for certain: the grim tableau of carnage that was Monday night’s divisional grudge match between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, beamed in 4K ultra-high-definition to a national audience, comes at the worst possible time for a league beset with problems from all sides.
“What came next was hardly unavoidable: a parade of illegal hits and deliberate head shots between regional rivals bound by a well-documented antipathy. Steelers rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster detonated a vicious blindside block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict then preened over his motionless victim, prompting unfettered disgust from ESPN commentators Sean McDonough (‘shame on him’) and Jon Gruden (who called it ‘sickening’). Not long after, Cincinnati safety George Iloka punctuated a game-tying touchdown catch by Pittsburgh star Antonio Brown with a late, high hit. (Iloka and Smith-Schuster have been suspended one game for their actions).”
This was only a small sampling of the brutality that permeated the game, leading this author to wonder if it were all a coincidence.
The NFL could certainly use a good controversy that isn’t about the National Anthem or Roger Goodell’s pathetic reaction to it. By allowing the game to get out of hand, (by pressuring the officials in charge of keeping things clean), the NFL could easily shift focus away from their patriotic dissonance. Furthermore, it would slake the thirst of old school fans of the league who were disheartened by the recent rule adjustments being made in the name of safety.
Should this be the case, there is a greater shame yet to be branded upon the failing NFL.