Season after season, the National Football League continues to encounter pitfalls, thriving despite itself, only because all we want to do with our Sundays is drink beer and watch gladiators beat the snot out of each other. This season is no exception.
In our latest episode of “what have you done wrong for me lately,” the league can’t leave well enough alone. The NFL has decided to appeal the six-week suspension for Cleveland Browns star DeShaun Watson, seeking out a longer suspension for the game’s currently most infamous quarterback.
In other words, the NFL is trying to convince us that it has grown a conscious, that it has become a kinder gentler NFL that cares about women’s rights, a group, mind you, that makes up over a third of its fan base. Trust me when I tell you this couldn’t be further from the truth.
With Patriots owner Robert Kraft calling the ruling an embarrassment for the league, which is ironic considering it wasn’t long ago he was embroiled in a massage parlor sting of his own, Browns ownership must be sitting across the boardroom table clamoring for Kraft to shut the hell up. The rich eating the rich has become almost as enjoyable as the football games themselves. While Kraft’s former quarterback, you may have heard of him, once received a four-game suspension for taking the air out of footballs, Kraft and company are left wondering why the Browns quarterback got only two games more for showing his balls to 24 different massage therapists.
What’s lost in all this glorious hypocrisy is that the NFL fails to realize, to determine the six-game ruling, all a judge did was look at the precedent the league had set in the past. Since the NFL has never really looked down upon this sort of behavior, the judge felt a six-game suspension was sufficient. Her decision, while angering many, was rather brilliant. She all but told the league that its track record on penalizing related behavior is lacking, so why the sudden concern? Remember, this is an institution that once fined Ray Rice four games for cold cocking his girlfriend and then leaving her unconscious in a Las Vegas elevator when WE ALL SAW VIDEO OF IT!!! One could effectively make the argument it was more the court of public opinion that ended Ray Rice’s career more than any league office decision. To put things in their proper perspective, this is a league that has suspended players a year for gambling, indefinitely for smoking marijuana, and all but had a player banned for kneeling for the national anthem.
To say the league’s priorities are out of whack would be overstating the obvious. It only has itself to blame.
When I first heard of the NFL appeal, a few things crossed my mind. The first was, why didn’t they leave well enough alone? We had already stopped talking about Watson. Instead, they pulled us back in. Sure, some would have griped about the six-game suspension but by mid-October, they’d have welcomed him back and all this would have gone away, for the league at least. Now we’re still talking about it and will be for a while.
The second thing I thought was that the league would appeal on behalf of Watson, asking that the suspension be shortened. Yes, that’s what I’ve come to expect from the NFL. Instead, the league is seeking a harsher penalty, all the while trying to convince its fans they’re talking a harsher stance on player behavior. Again, not buying it. This isn’t the first time the league has bungled a player’s bone headedness and it will not be the last. Watson’s six-game suspension, while maintaining the dangerous precedent that its players (and owners) can do whatever they like, is a past he can’t escape. People don’t forget the Ben Roethlisberger incidents. They didn’t forget Ray Rice. Heck, Jameis Winston still gets remembered for walking out of a Publix with gifted crab legs and that was a decade ago. We won’t soon forget Watson either. Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light. These are NFL players whose rep will take a knock all the while they’re cashing their paychecks. It’s the price of fame and stupidity.
And yes, while many fans flocked to Watson for autographs at the latest Brown’s minicamp, that should serve as an indication as to how many people are offended by his actions. Many took to the internet and found the fan-fawning disgusting, but when Watson throws that first touchdown pass in Cleveland Browns Stadium, or whatever they’re calling it these days, Browns fans will put down their picket signs and proudly pick back up their dog masks and hard hats. Woof.
Lastly, I wondered whether Browns ownership would have so actively pursued Watson if they knew the 31 other owners were going to seek a harsher penalty. The Browns had to know they’d be looking at about a year suspension. It’s why they structured his contract so he’d only make a few million in year one and backloaded it so the bulk of his non-guaranteed monies would come once the suspension was over. It was one of the more blatantly offensive contracts we’ve ever seen, one the NFL allowed to happen.
Meanwhile, Watson practices with his team and awaits the new ruling, with the NFL Players Association staunchly having his back. Short of kicking the guy out of the league, which would probably be severe in lieu of the multiple allegations against him, any suspension will present the mirage that the NFL gives a hoot about women’s rights. Someone should inform the league women are smarter than that. They also have far more important court decisions with which to be concerned.
Had the league taken this issue seriously from the start, a judge wouldn’t have handed down only a six-game suspension and we’d be no longer having this discussion. Furthermore, its players (and owners) would understand the difference between acceptable and reprehensible (if not illegal) behavior. Instead, we continue to talk about what Watson did off the field instead of what he does on it.
In the end, it’s all a ruse. The NFL isn’t going to do anything that won’t turn it a profit. It’s an American institution through and through. While it is concerned about protecting its image, it’s shield, it’s not nearly as concerned about doing the right thing as you think. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have allowed the Watson contract to happen, and they wouldn’t have assigned the same penalties for leaving your wife unconscious in an elevator as they did for deflating a damn football.