Beyond Deflategate: The NFL’s Real Problems Aren’t Getting Any Better

Beyond #Deflategate: The Many Problems of the NFL

Deflategate has many NFL fans upset. But what about the rest of the league’s image problems? 

I slept very poorly last night. While I know better than to check Facebook during a bout of insomnia, it’s still one of the most common reactions: One that does nothing to aid sleeplessness. That’s especially true for someone who, like myself, spent many years in Boston, and whose Facebook feed is currently overrun with posts about Deflategate.

It’s hard to ignore, since the topic seems to have engulfed every news outlet, but to review: Deflategate is the newly-coined term used to refer to the recent scandal plaguing the New England Patriots, in which the team (namely, the staff that handles equipment) allegedly deflated footballs before last year’s AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, to make them easier to grip.

WBUR, Boston’s local NPR station, has done a terrific job of accounting for the events.

Earlier this week, the NFL announced that the Patriots will be fined $1 million and that the team’s star quarterback, Tom Brady, is suspended for four games without pay. In any direction, the response has been outrage: Some crying that the punishment is excessive, while others say it’s not nearly harsh enough. I, too, am outraged. But Deflategate? I couldn’t care less about this particular incident.

Here’s the thing: If the Patriots cheated, they should be punished. If Tom Brady was part of it, he should be suspended. In fact, depending on what evidence is actually available, the Patriots could even deserve to be stripped of the team’s most recent Super Bowl title, which came after winning the now-controversial championship game. Yes; that’s coming from a Patriots fan. The NFL’s problems are rooted far deeper than this latest scandal. Deflategate is just the most recent installment in the organization’s widespread encouragement of being able to get away with anything, as long as you’re a professional athlete.

Partially responsible for this phenomenon are the completely blurred parameters of what the NFL, a heralded and nearly deified American institution, constitutes as right, wrong, and culpable. Some interesting statistics have been highlighted as a result of the announcement. BostInno pointed out that Brady’s penalty is double that originally assigned to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, when security camera footage of his assault on his then-fiancee surfaced (prior to his indefinite suspension, which was eventually overturned). Brady’s suspension is also equal to the punishment given to Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for sexual assault.

These statistics, though blood-boiling, barely shed light on the flawed system comprising the NFL. Here we are, over a year since the video of Rice’s violence toward his wife became public, and investigators still have failed to conclude whether or not anyone within the NFL saw the video prior to TMZ’s release of it in February 2014. Yet, after a brief four months, an investigative committee has been able to gather sufficient evidence to conclude that, yes, footballs were deflated prior to a playoff game, and appropriate punitive action shall be taken. Again: Cheating is wrong. If the Patriots cheated, they should be punished. The stark increase of internal outcry over game-related issues, however, over the violently misogynistic actions of certain players, is more than noticeable.

The NFL’s culture of marginalizing women isn’t exactly limited to inadequate punishment of its players, either. In 2013, ESPN correspondent Darren Rovell tweeted that, for its annual breast cancer awareness campaign, the NFL “takes a 25% royalty from the wholesale price (1/2 retail), donates 90% of royalty to American Cancer Society.” The numbers are tricky, and were later elaborated by Business Insider: Essentially, for every $100 of merchandise sold as part of the campaign, $12.50 is labeled as going directly to the NFL, $11.25 of which is then given to the American Cancer Society. That might make it appear as though the NFL is donating 90% of its cut to ACS, but look closer: About 88.75% of the revenue collected is divided between makers and sellers of the merchandise The catch? That seller is typically comprised of the NFL itself, or its different teams.

According to Forbes, the average worth of an NFL team is roughly $1.43 billion. In other words: They don’t need the money. The league, as well as its higher-valued teams (the Patriots, for example, are worth roughly $2.4 billion), can afford to do more. Just a few ideas: Sending medical trucks to underserved regions to provide free mammograms, using the high-profile NFL name to bring women’s health education initiatives into communities and, while they’re at it, educating all youth, everywhere, about anti-violence, and respect.

Hey, Goodell: That’s how you solve a PR crisis.

Sadly, the NFL’s problems don’t end there; Frontline’s “League of Denial” special on resulting concussions from faulty helmets is hardly forgettable. The league can afford to write an annual $4 million paycheck to its quarterbacks, but the funds are lacking to invest in proper safety equipment. What kind of message does that send about human priorities?

The biggest criminal in the entirety of these events, quite possibly, is the NFL Commissioner himself. Roger Goodell is the one in the greatest position of power: The one in the position to say, “Not in my house. We won’t stand for this.” Instead, he’s broadcasting the idea: This isn’t about people. This is about winning a game.

I don’t have children, but I do know that many look up to the NFL and its players as heroes and role models. Of course, it can be argued that ultimately teaching right-versus wrong is a lesson often best left to parents. It is downright reckless, however, for an organization that has become a celebrated household name and national tradition to send the message that winning takes priority over human rights. If it were any other way, adequate funds would be allocated for proper helmets and breast cancer awareness initiatives, and the league would lead proper investigations of all misconduct.

It’s time to fix this gravely flawed machine.

This article originally appears on LinkedIn. Reprinted with permission. 

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