There must be something in the air - and I don’t mean Christmas. I’m not sure what it is, but something has to be causing the extra aggression and unreasonable behavior exhibited across the NFL this season. I know this is a sport where aggression is perceived as a component that helps win games. The aggression is expected, even seen as necessary. I like to think of it more as passion than raw aggression but, whatever it is, the NFL definitely has it. It is something that we, as fans, are used to - something that we don’t always love about the game but accept. Football is, after all, a game where 22 players are purposefully chasing, hitting, sacking, and blocking each other on every play.
There is something different about this season though, a season where it seems that every other play sends yet another yellow flag flying from a referee’s pocket - followed by ejections and, oftentimes, suspensions and fines. In all my years (and there have been a lot of them at this point in my life) of watching and loving the game of football, I have never, ever seen this preponderance of intentional, unsportsmanlike - even cruel - conduct. Even the famed “Steel Curtain” defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 70’s, whose reputation for being big, burly, and mean, were never called out by fans or the press for steamrolling way past the line of unsportsmanlike conduct.
The incidents in just the last few weeks’ games have definitely gone above and beyond unsportsmanlike conduct. They have become “un-humanlike” conduct. Hitting a man who is already down or out of bounds at the end of a play; running across the field to tackle someone from behind; instigating physical fights and punching people when they aren’t looking. This is all over-the-top behavior. And, players who have NEVER been known for fighting, or even been seen caught up in the middle of a fight, are suddenly taking cheap shots. Rob Gronkowski? Seriously?
It is crazy! There has to be something in the air.
Does the air smell like frustration about team management? Does the air have the ashes from fires of corruption within the league? Does the air carry the cold frost and numbness that comes from being criticized for choosing to take a stand against social injustice? Does the air contain the fallout of players struggling with impulse control because they’ve taken too many hits to the head over the years? Or, is the air simply filled with the sweat of pampered players who feel entitled and just want to do what they want, whenever they want to?
Whatever is in the air, as a loyal and hardcore fan of football, I am begging the players to figure this all out and STOP IT already. You are debasing a beautiful game that is already facing its share of critical problems. As a fan, it is hard enough to watch players get injured. It is hard enough to accept that you are comfortable watching a sport that can oftentimes have long-term physical issues for the players who put themselves out there each week for the glory and for the fans. You are making it so difficult for us to stand by you. You are making it so difficult for us to watch you - for us to let our children watch you - and you are making it so difficult for us to support all of the other good things that you do.
Maybe this is a bit naive, but perhaps you could run around the block a few times before each game. Hit a punching bag? Talk to your kids, or share love with your significant other? Have you considered therapy of some sort? Do something to help you control those aggressive impulses that lead to “un-humanlike” behavior on the field, and get back to focusing on being the very best player you can be on the field...and the very best person you can be off the field. Your fans, particularly your youngest ones, thank you!
By: Wendy Rosenthal