Can I tell you the current top brass in the league aren't a bunch of scum bags? No, I can't. Roger Goodell, Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the Ravens cast seem to have — in all likelihood — orchestrated a massive cover up of a damnable, disgusting crime.
Can I tell you that every player in the NFL has been obeying the laws of the United States of America? No, no I definitely can't.
Can I tell you its teams are absent of belligerent owners, racist names, underpaid cheerleaders and the greed of Wall Street? No, I wouldn't dare.
But guess what? Welcome to the United States of America. We incarcerate people like nobody else, we like money, we like drugs and we're still learning how to treat our women.
What I see when I watch people throw stones at the National Football League is bunch of crazies screaming in the mirror. I know because I did it too, and I was wrong.
In the year 2011, 1 in 25 Americans were arrested. That's 3,991 Americans for every 100,000 (what amounted to more than 12.4 million people). On average, over the course of the last four years, the NFL has an arrest rate (for a population of 100,000) of 2,466. No, you are not reading that incorrectly. The NFL is better behaved than our beloved average Joe.
For all the screaming, tweeting, Facebooking and disgust you shared about this league "full of abusers" and "violent criminals," did you ever stop to look at us? Did you ever google "how many people does the NFL employ?"
The answer is around 115,000. That's about the population of Berkeley, California. Or Columbia, Missouri. Or Wilmington, North Carolina. Literally, a small city of employees, some feeding their families and others buying absurdly expensive homes. Seriously though, do you need a job? Forget Indeed.com, try the NFL.
Speaking of employment, there has been a lot of talk about equal pay and employment for men and women recently. While the NFL has dropped the ball on its cheerleaders, don't forget it was the first major sport to have a woman play a prominent role in its coverage. After winning the 1971 Miss America Pageant, Phyllis George joined NFL today and landed on CBS Morning News as a result. Should women be thankful to the NFL? Of course not. Can women like Erin Andrews and Pam Oliver say the NFL helped break down barriers with them? Yes, yes they can.
But the National Football League isn't just about making money and divvying it up to those that worked for it. They're also about giving that money away.
Of course, if you google "NFL charities" you have to dig through pages of the same story being plagiarized over and over again: "Only $3.54 of every $100 the NFL claims to raise for breast cancer research actually goes to breast cancer research." But alas, what is buried in the 7th and 8th paragraphs of those articles are little tidbits like this: "that percentage is actually not inconsistent with what other major corporations donate to select charities through consumer purchases, according to Charity Watch president Daniel Borochoff."
In reality (a noun meaning "real things, facts, or events taken as a whole"), the NFL makes single donations as large as $30 million. They have contributed $368 million to football-related charities, building fields, getting kids outside and promoting exercise. They have given millions to 9/11 charities, the Cooper Institute, sports medical research, and so forth. The NFL players themselves combine for a laundry list of charities that would literally put you to sleep.
Eli Manning alone "raised $2.5 million for the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital and recently donated $1 million to the University of Mississippi’s Ole Miss Opportunity Scholarship fund."
In the same tune, Detroit reporter Lauren Beasley recently recorded all the charitable, selfless things the "lowly" Lions organization had done in just the last few weeks. If you're getting bored already, here some excerpts:
- "...provide scholarship to students of African decent throughout the United States to go to college."
- "The group of Lions players not only spent the morning with third-graders from Marion Law Academy but they also helped to educate them about the importance of healthy snack choices and proper nutrition."
- "...grand opening of “The Project Phoenix Learning Center,” which is a new 21st Century computer lab and learning center at the Detroit Lions Academy."
Doesn't all this good just put you to sleep? Who could go for some celeb nudes and TMZ videos right about now?
While these dollar signs and statistics prove a point, they still do nothing to represent the intangibles. Stats, arrest records, millions of dollars; they pale in comparison to the most obvious thing the NFL does: bring joy and happiness into people's homes (unless you're a Browns fan).
No FBI report will ever be able to tell you what it's like for me to sit down on a comfy couch in the middle of a brisk October afternoon, crack a beer with my dad, stuff myself full of warm food and let go of the week. No public statement could make you understand a fourth quarter touchdown, diving into the arms of your favorite people and rubbing your heads together with joy. It'd be easy for me to explain why a fantasy football league helps my friends keep in touch, or how a simple diversion like football has opened up some of the best conversations I've ever had in my life, but you wouldn't want to hear that, would you? Judging by the 111.5 million people that watched the Super Bowl last year, I'm not the only one whose family and friends gets together for the big game.
Instead you'd rather throw your stones, call your names and beg for your justice. There is no doubt the NFL is a scarred organization today, one that has a lot of explaining to do. There is no doubt that there are bad men who operate inside the lines the same way bad men operate in every society on every continent on this planet.
There is an undoubtedly a stern punishment that needs to be served by a few, and messages that need to be sent to others, but let's be sure that this justice is just.