September 17th, 2014

Billy Reed: Blame fans for condoning abuse

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor


Billy Reed: Blame fans for condoning abuse
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is accused of spanking his 4-year-old son with a branch / photo from twincities.com and cover photo from NFL.com

Regarding the current beleaguered state of the NFL, we all know there’s plenty of blame to go around. But just for a moment, let’s stop pointing fingers at Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, commissioner Roger Goodell and others. Instead, let’s look in the mirror. Because, you see, the culture that exists in the NFL — and throughout the sports world—– couldn’t exist unless we enabled it.

Our obsession with teams and players and coaches — with winning, no matter what the cost — has gotten out of control, clouding our judgment and leading us to condone behavior that we would deplore in any other area of society. Our obsession has empowered our sports heroes to think they get to live by a different set of rules than everybody else. This is on us, not them. They are just products of a warped set of values.

If pro sports heroes behaved better in the 1940s, ‘50s, and early ‘60s — and they generally did — it was at least partly because their pay wasn’t that great. Many had to supplement their sports salaries with offseason jobs. They were mostly kind to the media because good press could help them get lucrative offseason employment.

That seems so quaint today, doesn’t it? Thanks to the all the fans who buy tickets and watch sports on TV, professional sports — and big-time college sports — have become conglomerates and cartels, rich beyond imagination. Even substitute players have multimillion-dollar contracts. So, in effect, you and I underwrite the culture that exists today, the bad as well as the good.

We also have allowed our identities to get so wrapped up in a team’s success that we will go to any extreme to rationalize bad behavior by one of “our” players and, conversely, pillory rivals for the exact same behavior. We are guilty of the double standard to a degree that changes us as people and causes us to fudge on the core beliefs we were taught as youngsters.

So almost as disturbing as the security tape of Rice belting his wife senseless in a casino elevator, or the photos of the welts and bruises on the legs of Peterson’s 4-year-old son, are the lengths to which some fans have gone to justify their behavior. It’s a matter of trying to defend the indefensible, all in the name of loyalty to a player or a team or a brand.

Over the years, I’ve been fascinated by the violence required to play football at a high level. I’ve had many friends who are perfectly normal until they strap on their helmets. Then they change into people I don’t know. Invariably, they tell me they are able to switch off the violent part of their nature when the final whistle blows. Maybe so, but now we know that not everybody can turn it on and off like a water faucet. Now we know that some guys carry the violence into their homes.

We, you and I, have done a poor job of holding our sports heroes accountable. And I include members of the media in this blanket indictment. Over the years, the media has changed for the worse. Instead of being comprised exclusively of professional journalists, today’s media include bloggers, tweeters, talk-show hosts and others who are fans at heart and who have not earned the right to the platforms they have created. All they do is fan the flames of ignorance and prejudice, making a bad situation worse at every opportunity.

We all have sat idly by and allowed society to become more coarse and vulgar. Back in the day, it was easy to find art in both music and movies. Today, it’s almost impossible. The production companies give us a steady diet of sex and violence because that’s what we want. And misogyny is rampant.

Consider these hip-hop lyrics:

Be a good girl now,

Turn around,

And get these whippings.

You know you like it like that,

You don’t have to fight back.

Here’s a pillow – bite...that.

Pretty unambiguous, isn’t it? Anybody see any redeeming social value there? I wonder how many times such lyrics have been played over the speaker system before a pro or college game without anybody paying attention. Even more, I wonder how many players are listening to such crap through the earphones they wear on the way to games?

Going back to the days of the young Sinatra, pop music has pushed the envelope on love and sex. I remember the swiveling hips of Elvis. I got the outright sexuality of Little Richard and Tina Turner and The Stones. But so far as I can see, rap and hip-hop are the first genres to celebrate violence against women. There are no love songs in rap, only songs that depict women as objects that men can use as they please.

Whenever I bring this up on the radio or elsewhere, I’m immediately dismissed as “Old School.” But I argue there’s no such thing as “old” or “new” when it comes to human relationships. There’s no “old” or “new” when it comes to respect, dignity and decency. It’s the same in sports, where the basic concept of the “level playing field” must be honored at all times. Anybody who cheats, or condones cheating, is an affront to the basic tenets of competition.

It’s probably asking too much for today’s players to start practicing that hopelessly outdated virtue known as sportsmanship. Can you imagine a game in which players are humble in victory, respectful of their opponents and modest when they make a good play? Where there is no taunting, dancing, chest-thumping or posturing for the TV cameras? Incredible, I know. But that’s the way it used to be.

It has changed only because we allowed it to happen. We sat and watched and said nothing, maybe because we were afraid of being accused of being “Old School” or “out of touch” or “not cool.”

We can cause reform, you and I. We can stop buying tickets, watching TV and buying the products of the companies who underwrite TV and sports franchises. We can reclaim our identities as individuals instead of allowing ourselves to be mindless devotees of some team or franchise. We can stop worshipping sports heroes as gods and start holding them accountable for any displays of antisocial, illegal or vulgar behavior.

Mostly, we can stop being enablers. We must start taking domestic violence seriously. If we are to remain a civilized society, we must stop trying to demonize women who accuse athletes of abuse because of our loyalty to the team and our insane desire to win. We must stop telling men they deserve special treatment simply because they can run or pass or catch a football.

Reform is not impossible, but don’t depend on the NFL to do it. We’ve already seen enough from Goodell to not trust him. No, the NFL will do what institutions always do when the hallowed brand name is threatened. It will go into damage-control mode, which means covering up what it can and trying to put the best spin possible on what it can’t.

So it’s up to us, you and I. The consumers. The fans who also have a conscience. This is one of those unique situations that will reveal much about the character of each of us. So take a moment and give it some serious thought and reflection. And then do the next right thing, whatever you think that might be.

 

 

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