Friday, September 19, 2014


So the latest football thug to abuse someone weaker than himself is Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings whose violent abuse of his son comes hard on Ray Rice's, late of the Baltimore team, beating of his now wife in an Atlantic City elevator. We have a far too long tradition of such thuggery the most famous though far from the first of which is O. J. Simpson that extends from O. J. to Michael Vick, Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky, Ray Lewis, Aaron Hernandez and through any number of other criminals and jerks coddled because they could play a violent game for the pleasure of millions of their co-conspirators.

The current focus is on the National Football Leagues policies toward the violent and abusive players. That is absolutely the wrong focus or, at best, a small part of the system at which we should be appalled.

Let me backtrack a bit. Twenty years ago Someone, almost undoubtedly despite the acquittal O. J. Simpson, murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. O. J. was duly arrested and suddenly discovered that he was a black man. His defense team did a brilliant job of making Simpson's arrest and trial an issue of bigoted, white police persecuting and prosecuting a black man. They made O. J. into Emmett Till and consequently got him acquitted but Simpson was not, except by birth, a black man. He is and was a jock. Like Ray Rice, Aaron Hernandez, Adrian Peterson, O. J. Simpson was coddled and lauded from an early age. Once the larger society found that these men had exceptional ability in playing football they effectively ceased to have any color other than the jersey that bore their player number. Educators in their schools were often told explicitly when fandom and implicit pressure didn't suffice that these men needed to pass courses for which they did little or no work and had less interest or proficiency so that they could play football and win games for the school team. Team boosters provided them with perks. Their athleticism got them all the female companionship they wanted and they lived a life protected from many of the pressures that their peers faced while being protected from the consequences of their failings and, often, bad behavior.

Long ago when I was in high school a fellow student a year or two ahead of me was Arnold Butkus. Arnie was huge. I stand over six feel tall and he towered over me and was probably twice my weight at the time. He was the star of the high school football team and a one-day NFL hopeful. His cousin, Dick Butkus did later play professionally. I might say that Arnie was dumb as a rock if I weren't insulting the intelligence of rocks by doing so. Yet he passed all his classes and maintained a respectable grade average because he was the hope of the school team. I have no idea what happened to Arnie and I hope that he did well in later life. He was my sad introduction to jock culture and the way it skews the concepts of education, merit and fairness.

After their schooling the players who make it to the NFL draft are young, usually somewhere between eighteen and twenty-two and showered with huge sums of money along with perks from boosters that provide them with a lifestyle to which most of us only aspire in our dreams of winning a lottery. We have coddled young men who may know that they can do wrong but also know that some booster will make the consequences go away. They literally have been taught that they can get away with murder. They know they are protected because the institutions for which they play, whether those are universities or the NFL, have huge amounts of money riding on those players' and coaches successes. Worse yet the identity and some part of the personal success of the boosters is invested in the success of their football team and of its star players.

The whole jock culture is a cesspool of a petri dish in which the murderous Simpson and Hernandez, the abusive Rice, Peterson or Sandusky breed and fester. It is a cesspool of money and misplaced hero-worship.

Football and hockey with soccer following a little distance behind are the most violent sports in which jock culture's noisomeness seethes but it's also present in baseball and basketball and, in fact, at the professional level of every sport. If we needed further proof I submit to you the case of Oscar Pistorius.

The point is not that sports or playing sports are bad in some way. Nor is it wrong for us to appreciate the genius of one person in playing a game as much as we appreciate the genius of another for performing surgery or teaching literature to name but two fields. The point I am making is that taking young men - and for the most part they are men - and teaching them that they are above the law and all other social norms simply because they can play a game extraordinarily well begs for the behavior we've seen from Aaron Hernandez, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Jerry Sandusky. No statement of policy by the NFL or the collegiate sports governing authorities will apply more than a band-aid over the festering wound that is jock culture. However, to confront the abuses of jock culture requires that we confront ourselves and our attitudes toward sports which is why we will see nothing but discussions of NFL policy for the foreseeable future. That failure to question and reform jock culture makes then next O. J. or Ray Rice as inevitable as the sunrise.