Football could use a tune-up

With the Penn State scandal, the Saints’ bounty program and the concussion debate looming over the sport of football, it’s hard not to wonder about the future of the game as we know it.

These are not the only red flags that have been raised recently, though. It seems like every week there’s breaking news on ESPN about an NFL player getting arrested. As a matter of fact, according to a database compiled by the San Diego Union-Tribune, a total of 603 NFL players have been arrested or cited (offenses more serious than a speeding ticket) since the year 2000. And this list is not considered comprehensive: the San Diego U-T says that “some incidents may have not been reported and some public records proved to be elusive.” Regardless, that’s an average of about 50 players being arrested every year — nearly one every week.

So not only is the violent nature of the game being called into question, the players and coaches who are supposed to be role models for the youth are also being looked at with uncertain eyes.

Don’t get me wrong, there is undoubtedly plenty of good that comes from the players in the NFL, but sometimes the bad just seems to get overlooked because of the overall popularity of the sport.

It almost seems as though NFL athletes live slightly above the law. Once they are arrested, they do not necessarily always suffer the consequences that an average American citizen would have to deal with. For example: Nick Fairley and Mikel Leshoure (University alum) of the Detroit Lions have each been arrested twice this year, Fairley for a marijuana possession charge and a DUI charge and Leshoure for two separate marijuana possession charges; one can’t help but think that any other person would have probably lost their job by now. The league suspended Leshoure for two games and Fairley may be suspended soon, but they are most likely not getting cut from the team.

That’s not even the most serious example from this year. During the past NFL season, Cincinnati Bengals’ wide receiver Jerome Simpson was arrested for one count of marijuana trafficking when authorities tracked a package to his house that contained 2.5 pounds of cannabis. They discovered six more pounds and scales inside Simpson’s house. Once again, it seems like any other citizen would be thrown into jail at this point, but Simpson was briefly detained and was at practice the next day. Most people probably remember Simpson for front-flipping into the endzone during the past season. And while it can be argued that marijuana is not the worst drug out there, the fact of the matter is that it is still illegal. Also, eight pounds of marijuana and some scales does not seem necessary for the occasional user. Simpson may or may have not been considered “the weed man.”

The players I have listed above are definitely not the most popular players in the NFL, but there are plenty of examples over the past years of more beloved athletes being arrested. See Michael Vick in his Atlanta days.

The same finger can also be pointed at college football players too. Like when Cam Newton stole computers from the University of Florida. Sometimes, the repercussions for a college athlete are greater than what a NFL player would receive because they end up getting kicked off the team. I don’t think it’s an outlandish expectation that NFL athletes should be held to a higher standard than others. They are in the spotlight and they should behave as such.

Couple these issues with the fact that people are starting to take notice of how violent the sport is and I cannot help but question the future of football. Even Kurt Warner took to his website to say that he is concerned about his children playing football because of the violent nature of the sport. ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon has also publicly said multiple times that he will not let his son play football. When people this close to the sport are questioning its nature, it could be the start to a vast downward spiral. Add the scandals and the arrests associated with the sport and it seems like it could eventually end up being the perfect storm.

I played organized football for seven years. There is no doubt in my mind that it is the ultimate team sport. One cannot succeed without the other ten people on the field doing their job. If the offensive line doesn’t block the play correctly, the running back is not going to gain a yard. If the linebackers and defensive linemen don’t take care of their perspective gaps, then the running back is heading towards that first down. I could probably list at least fifty examples like this.

The relationships that can be built fighting for each other on the gridiron are undeniable. Such a great team sport really deserves better from those who get paid to play it and also, those who get paid to watch over it. I believe NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, although disliked by many, is a good example of what the sport of football needs. He seems to be a no-nonsense type of commissioner, but I believe he could do a better job of penalizing the players who get arrested.

Overall, football is not going anywhere for the time being. There is obviously too much money in it for the sport to just cease existence. But as we move toward an era where former athletes are questioning its violent nature, there is no question that the NFL should do anything and everything to protect their players. Eliminating concussions from the sport seems impossible, but limiting them is definitely not out of the question. Neither is asking athletes to clean up their acts off the field.