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The NFL is America. The Bad Part.

Over the past week we’ve heard all the facts, seen the video, and witnessed the justifiable outrage over the NFL’s laughably soft punishment of Ray Rice for punching his fiancé in the face and knocking her unconscious in an elevator. Well, it would be laughable if it wasn’t so insulting to the intelligence of the population in general, and women in particular.

Perhaps, instead of throwing pink towels and gloves on its players come October, and contributing 0.02% of their revenue to cancer charities for the right to appear sympathetic to women’s causes in an attempt to expand their female fan base, the NFL can suspend a player who punches his fiancé in the face more than two games. Which, for context, is half the suspension he would face if he were to test positive for the presence of marijuana in his body.

Archaic stance on domestic violence? Check.

Mr. Rice’s suspension, though, doesn’t start until the regular season. That means he’ll be eligible to play in his team’s third preseason game, against the Washington Redskins. Step outside your prior knowledge of, and acclimation to, the NFL, and just read that last sentence again. There is actually a team in the largest professional sports league in the United States named the “Redskins.”

Where we should be feeling a mix of regret and shame for stealing a land and a way of life from an indigenous people, we’re instead taking a pejorative slur for their race and naming a football team with it. When a vocal majority of American society finally graduates to a level of decency where they demand that the name be changed, the club and the NFL resist and decline to change it based on adherence to “tradition.” Right. We wouldn’t want to sully anyone’s tradition, would we? That would be ok for a race of people, sure; just not a sports team.

Tacit acceptance of racism? Check.

Let’s say, in that preseason game, Mr. Rice busts through a hole in the line and plows over a middle linebacker on his way to a 14-yard gain. That linebacker absorbs the hit primarily with his head, is knocked out, and suffers a concussion – the third in his NFL career. He’ll be whisked off the field and tested on the sidelines, while television announcers for the game will be sure to point out how the NFL is taking brain injuries seriously.

Ten years from now, that linebacker will have been retired from the NFL for seven years. He’ll have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, struggling to stand upright atop knees that had been operated on half a dozen times, now bereft of any cartilage.   He’ll spend most of the day trying to remember basic everyday things like where he put his keys and the name of his daughter’s teacher – those concussions having left him with permanent brain damage.

He won’t have health insurance from the NFL, though. That ran out two years ago. Even though the bulk of playing-related illness, both physical and mental, doesn’t appear until well after their career is over, they are on their own to pay for care; this despite playing in a league that made $1.4 billion in profit last year on their collective work.

Blinding, indefensible greed?Check.

In American professional sports, the NFL is king. It makes the most money, and its championship game is a de facto national holiday. It’s unfortunate – and unacceptable – that so much of what it stands for, as told through its actions, is the exact opposite of what we claim to strive for as a nation.

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