The hearty souls who brave frigid temperatures and cold, howling winds to attend games in December don’t make up the majority of NFL fans. A far higher percentage watches the action on their wide-screen TVs from their soft recliners, chomping on chicken wings and slurping a cold beer.
And from that cozy setting, they make judgments on the players.
That’s fine. Most respect the greatness of the talent. They understand the physical hardships NFL players must endure both before and after they hang up their spikes for playing a collision sport. They pity those who suffer post-career disabilities because they took too many vicious hits on the field. They understand that the life span of the average NFL player is tragically shortened due to the after-effects of the game’s brutal nature.
But there are less thoughtful fans out there. They are the ones who examine the Bountygate scandal revolving around the New Orleans Saints and claim the punishments meted out by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell were too severe. They are the ones making idiotic statements such as, “This is the NFL. If the players can’t take the punishment, let them retire and become insurance salesmen.”
Then those same fans retire – to their easy chairs in the comfort of their living rooms – to watch their favorite teams play.
Hard hits, even intimidating shots, are part of the game. But organizing a bounty system for the sole purpose of injuring opponents, as did Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, crosses the line with the speed of Usain Bolt and the distance of a marathon runner. Williams will likely never be hired by another NFL team, nor should he be. The legacies of head coach Sean Payton, linebacker Jonathan Vilma (both suspended for one season) and others who have been punished will be tarnished.
And that’s justice.
Complaints about the perceived “sissification” of the sport have some justification. The NFL needs to address the dramatic increase in 15-yard roughing penalties called against pass-rushers who get close enough to breathe on a quarterback. Some offer that kickoffs have been deemed so dangerous that they should be eliminated. Such responses to the upsurge in concussions and other injuries are gross overreactions.
But the effort to make the game safer shouldn’t be criticized. That’s why it’s puzzling that the National Football League Players Association is supporting those who played a role in Bountygate. One can only hope the union truly believes the suspended players were innocent of the charges.
After all, there should be a united front to keep players as safe and healthy as possible. Even the NFL fans who drool when a safety sets his sights on a defenseless wide receiver snagging a pass over the middle should understand that.