The NFL’s Empty Gesture

The NFL recently made headlines when they announced the barring of convicted sexual criminals and domestic abusers from the NFL combine. Many believe this move was a step in the right direction for a league that has been plagued by ugly incidents involving players and heinous off the field actions. In fact, this announcement came only days after former Heisman winner and current Cleveland Brown, Johnny Manziel, was accused of a brutal assault on Colleen Crowley, whom he was dating at the time. There is no doubt that player behavior is a major issue in the NFL, but simply banning convicted criminals from the combine will do very little to solve the problem besides momentarily saving the NFL’s face with the media.

The NFL’s statement says the combine will exclude those with “misdemeanor or felony convictions involving violence or use of a weapon, domestic violence, sexual offense and/or sexual assault.” The operative term here is “convictions” because this puts all of the onus on the legal system to determine how these players are “viewed” by the NFL combine. This is frustrating because it just continues to shed light on the sheer hypocrisy of the league. Sometimes the league will leave it to the court system to determine certain ways the NFL interacts with the public and its players, but sometimes the NFL will take full control and subject players to the NFL’s whimsical laws. I am not trying to undermine the severity of an assault accusation, but it is hollow that the NFL will let the law decide the outcome of that, while taking it upon themselves to alienate and ban players for using substances that may be legal in their given state. This is a bit of apples to oranges, but the principles are the same despite how differently the league interacts with the two things.

Even worse, however, is the NFL giving agency in these situations to a legal system that is broken. The American legal system notoriously protects men in cases involving sex crimes or domestic violence, where the charges eventually will get changed, dropped or the accusations may never make it to court in the first place. This is a country where victims of these types of violence are routinely intimidated into not even reporting and when/if they do, the court of public opinion will usually ask more questions of them than they do the accused. American culture consistently humiliates the victim, accusing them of having insidious motives for speaking out against their abuser, trying to debase their every word. This makes it so hard for victims to even speak out and if a case makes it to court, they are faced with the same humiliation but directly from the justice system itself. Countless times over the last few years have we seen players able to slip through the cracks of the legal system without facing stark, if any, consequences.

Jeremy Hill was charged with assaulting a 14 year old his senior year of high school, but the charge was knocked down to a misdemeanor where he only saw 2 years of probation. A year after the charge, he assaulted a fan outside of a bar and the consequences were that he only had his probation extended, was forced to do community service and had to write a letter of apology. He was drafted in the second round. Dorial Green Beckham broke into a house, pushed a woman down the stairs and dragged the person he was dating at the time out of the house. The woman he pushed down the stairs did not want to press charges out of fear of public backlash. Dorial Green Beckham was drafted in the second round. Frank Clark brutally assaulted a woman in a hotel room. The charges were knocked down to domestic disturbance. Clark was drafted in the second round. Jameis Winston was accused of rape early in his college career. His accuser made every effort to have her voice heard despite the police and school trying to get her to keep quiet. Jameis Winston was drafted first overall. Only a few weeks ago, FSU have his accuser and her legal team an out of court settlement. Greg Hardy brutalized a woman. She feared for her life too much to take the case to court. Greg Hardy received a lucrative one year deal from the Dallas Cowboys last spring.

The law does not care about women. The NFL does not care about women.

Saying the league will ban convicted criminals from the combine says nothing when so few of the accused actually end up with convictions. Also, there are plenty of alternatives to the combine where these players will have a platform to perform athletic tests at pro days, which offers a more intimate experience for team’s anyways. Of course, there is some teams’ blatant disregard for player character that undermines any attempt by the league to mask its intentions.

The league wants talented players, and whether or not they are violent criminals is besides the point if they don’t end up in prison, which they likely won’t. This “effort” by the league to curb the bad characters making their way into the game is nothing more than an empty gesture so the league can  pump some sunshine into the media.

Make no mistake, the NFL wants good players and despite what they may say, they don’t give a damn about anyone’s wellbeing. It’s all about the almighty dollar.

Ben Natan
Ben Natan

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