There are 22 men on the field, all in the best shape of their lives, using all of their strength in an effort to level the men across from them. The one thing that separates them is an invisible line called “scrimmage.”
It sounds like the preface for an anti-war demonstration. Instead, it’s the most broad description of a sport millions love and adore for entertainment purposes.
NFL organizations are accused of treating their players like products. Fans criticize them for being the evil organizations that only care about what they can do on the field. But fans fail to realize that they’re just as guilty.
Where We Always Go Wrong
We neglect the human element of these players’ lives and only care about what they can do for 60 minutes of playing time once a week. Once their production is hindered by an injury or a legal indiscretion off the field, everyone is prepared to dispose of them.
These men are supposed to be barbarians! How can we respect someone we see writhing around in pain? They’re supposed to be pinnacles of discipline! How dare they place themselves on the wrong side of the law!
Perhaps that jolt of humanity sends us into a panic. The idea that someone we idolize on a weekly basis is just as prone to human error and fault as we are comes as a shock.
These men no longer sit on thrones of impunity. And once that’s realized, the hammer of judgment slams with such ferocity that the impact sends waves across the national media.
It sounds extreme, but that’s the nature of the sport.
We still examine the life of an NFL player as something that our favorite teams will need to replace.
Not many give a second thought to the daily lives of these men or how the lives of those close to them have changed.
While fans cling to the memories, they do a poor job of honoring the men long removed from the playing field.
We Only Remember Until We Forget
In recent years, more attention has been paid to the health of retired NFL players. The toll the game took on their bodies has resulted in all types of aches and pains, from headaches to blunt trauma on major joints.
Former wide receiver for the New York Jets Wesley Walker is revered for his seasons in the NFL. He’s one of the bright spots in the organization’s spotty history.
But nearly two decades after his retirement, his number is worn by another man, and his memory becomes more distant as new Jets favorites emerge.
What hasn’t faded is Walker’s agony. For the glory of the team and for the respect of the fans, Walker, like so many other players, injected himself with cortisone shots to help him deal with the pain and keep playing.
The adrenaline from the cheers and applause may keep them going on Sunday afternoons, and the fans love them for it—but only until we’re allowed to move on from their memory.
While Walker “gets chest spasms that feel like heart attacks,” fans selfishly recall his playing days and don’t think twice of his current stress and pain after dedicating his life to our approval.
An NFL player’s retirement isn’t always glorious. We need to make more of an effort to respect the men who’ve left the game with a bang.
We Only Love You Until We Hate You
This goes far beyond injuries, though. When players do unfavorable things in their personal lives, fans look at them as a malfunctioning product—as something they’d like to ship back to the ghetto for a credit in next year’s draft.
Michael Vick’s life and playing career were destroyed by fans that ran wild with exaggerated claims.
Fans confused morality with legality, and Vick suffered. He was made an example and will forever be synonymous with all negativity that surrounds professional players in their personal lives.
The accusations against him created a bias that somehow negated the abilities that made people fans of his to begin with!
Poor decisions don’t make anyone less of the athlete we all admired. It’s unfair to use those poor choices against them, as if their lives are inconsequential on any other level.
Vince Young’s career is also being decimated, but not for any illicit activity. He continues to sit on the bench while the team Tennessee built for him continues its success.
Winning games made everyone forget about the development that was essential to Young’s success as an all-around quarterback in the league. Unfortunately for him, if the team does remain successful, he will become even more of an afterthought.
His style of play will become open for even more criticism. And if Kerry Collins’ success continues, and Young’s mental state becomes even more delicate, it’s not far-fetched to assume that Young will be forced from the league unceremoniously like so many young quarterbacks before him.
But is it fair? If we choose not to ordain our NFL stars as heroes, not to place them on pedestals, and not to treat them like our new favorite toys, then would the backlash for their actions still be so severe? Would they still be criticized so harshly?
Can We Change?
Individuals that love the game may be able to see through the surface, but the layers run too deep for an entire fan community to develop new behaviors.
Sympathy is at a minimum among fans. The working-class citizens that attend games feel minimal sorrow for the multimillionaire prima donnas on the field.
Injuries are dismissed and ignored as fans take solace in the fact that players are paid well enough to seek adequate medical treatment. Unfair standards that the majority of citizens don’t abide by themselves only adds to that detrimental lack of tolerance.
Adam “Pacman” Jones was slammed in the media for drinking and hanging out in strip clubs. Is that really supposed to be indicative of poor character? What’s next—are we going to evaluate DeSean Jackson’s cable bill to see if he’s ordered any naughty movies and hold that against him?
Those that never wore the pads at any level couldn’t understand the pain that comes with playing, both emotionally and physically. An effort needs to be made to abandon the selfishness and accept the human factor in all facets of life.