The game of professional football is violent. Men make enormous sums of money recklessly subjecting their bodies to horrific injury playing it. They enter the arena knowing their career could end on every snap. No place on earth is like a football locker room. Even in a marine boot camp, the inevitability of going under a surgeon’s knife does not permeate the air. This place is a domain where the only man without a scalpel’s scar, is a man who will eventually have one.
Comparison to a school bus, a schoolhouse, a normal workplace, a gym or even a military barracks is grossly ignoring the dynamics of this unique environment. In the places listed above, one should expect to peacefully navigate those halls without the threat of violence, but football is a world based on violence. It is a world where a man’s livelihood is derived from how well he delivers violence. Unlike a boxer who is mano-e-mano opposite a single opponent, the football player must exist as part of a team.
On a team where the object is to distribute violence better than the opponent, imagine a teammate whose mentality does not fit the environment. He enters this world because his draft status carries with it a multi-million dollar payday. Having played the game most of his life he believes he can handle this level until the realization becomes obvious, he is not violent enough. He could walk away to pursue other careers, but there are few with multi-million dollar paydays. The management that offered him the contract cannot simply fire him because he was drafted, not hired. They don’t get to try the draft again.
Squandering multi-millions of dollars is not an option management can explain away without their own judgment coming into question. In the locker room, teammates know the tale all too well. A player is drafted in a pay-slot way above his ability and they are expected to remain silent while he is given opportunities equivalent to his draft status. Some must sit on the bench knowing they are better players but because of the draft, are paid drastically less. Some must take the field with this player.
Those players watch a QB take hit after hit reminded repeatedly, the game is a business. Try as they may, they cannot walk through the locker room knowing a player does not belong regardless of his draft status and remain silent. There must be a rite of passage, there must be a pecking order established in a world where the slightest mistake ends another man's career. It’s not a baseball team where a mistake means a highly paid player bats ninth. A mistake in the NFL literally costs a player his knees or worse.
The pecking order in the locker room means the designated leader is expected to “help” the draft day mistake become, at least a cog in the wheel. In a place where violence is normal how can leadership be equated to a place where violence is abhorred? It cannot. The comparison cannot be made. Rules that make sense outside are laughable in this place, where the stitch pattern of a knee scar is as common as a neck tie in the normal world. The question is, can the locker room be regulated without destroying the NFL?
The dynamics are unfathomable on so many levels. An obviously brutish asshole on the outside world is an alpha male leader on the inside world. A mountain of a man on the outside world is not violent enough among the mountainous men on the inside world. Can a man who takes punishing head-on collisions play after play be unable to take the hateful words of another man, even when those words are common in his environment?
A football locker room is a sanctuary for the players. On practice fields and meeting rooms, coaches control and teach, but players police the locker room. In the locker room, players are expected to resolve their differences among their own. Even if those differences lead to fistfights, they are expected to remain in that domain between those people. If differences cannot be resolved, the players are expected to follow the chain of command as they would in any organization.
A team can never function when grievances are aired outside the organization. The right and the wrong cannot be aired for public consumption because the general public could not exist in a work place centered on violence. The public must make a choice between losing the game they are watching in record numbers or allowing the game to exist on its own terms. Those terms are not acceptable in any other work place. Running full speed and smashing a man head-on as hard as possible, is the game. Expecting to establish common policy in an uncommon place is paramount to destroying the game.
The boorish asshole is banished, the man not cutout for the violence, quit. The media having its frenzy must recognize its own vulnerability in the bright lights of the information age. The media exists because of the game. If it cannot allow the NFL to define its workplace as uncommon in the eyes of the law, the nature of the product will lead to its demise.
Players are paid millions of dollars because of this unique venue. Those same players cannot expect common treatment in the eyes of the law if they eagerly accept uncommon paychecks. Fans and media must differentiate the NFL from the common workplace or the NFL will not survive. Former players willfully paid to bash their heads into other men were awarded an enormous sum because lawyers declared them not responsible for their own actions.
Give those same lawyers one more step into this game and the media that makes their living off reporting the NFL and fans who spend their Sundays watching the NFL will be left wondering…
How did we let the game slip away…