The NFL: Violence Done Too Well?

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

NFL players are vicious. They are paid to be vicious—but only on the football field. Recently, however, the NFL has been the center of much controversy surrounding the violent actions of its players off the field. In his book, British Sports and Pastimes, Anthony Trollope dispels the saying “whatever you do, you should do it well,” by pointing out that putting in the time it takes to do something well is not worthwhile if more important things are neglected. Specifically, he says, “To play Billiards pre-eminently well is the life’s work of a man who, in learning to do so, can hardly have continued be a gentleman in the best sense of the word.” Today, it appears that all of the time spent by professional football players to do their profession “well” has led to personal issues with some in exhibiting their own gentlemanly behavior, which has reared its ugly head in the form of mounting domestic violence cases against NFL players.

While some have incorrectly assessed NFL players as a whole of being more prone to criminal activity than other people their age, it is true that domestic violence is a problem in the NFL. It has also been claimed that the NFL has covered up hundreds of domestic violence cases, but Benjamin Morris of Fivethirtyeight.com took a hard look at the reported cases of domestic violence from the NFL Arrests Database and compiled some troubling data. Morris notes that while domestic violence arrests currently make up 21 percent of all arrests for violent crimes in the United States, they make up 48 percent of all violent crime arrests in the NFL.

In a letter that appeared in The Players’ Tribune, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson tried to address the issue of domestic violence in the NFL from the perspective of a player. A quote from this piece reads, “As NFL players, we do not play a gentle game. But our hits, our anger, our aggressive behaviors need to be regulated and confined to the field.” Yet with so many stories from current and former NFL players about the mental and physical grit it takes to play the game of football, it seems logical that there may not be an off switch to all of this learned violent behavior.

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Source: USA Today

Perhaps one systematic problem with the NFL is that it is set up so much like a business that it basically forces those who play in it to subject themselves to constant violence in order to become better players. Trollope adds that sport is most enjoyable as a “pleasure and not a business.” But instead of playing for merely pleasure, NFL players are playing the sport of football for their job, and most have worked for their entire life to get a shot at playing on the professional level. They have forfeited the time and energy that they could have spent developing other aspects of their character to become hard-hitting machines between those 120 yards.

The “life’s work” so many pro players have put in to get where they are has been violent work. It often goes hand in hand with developing instinctual reactions to the violent game of football. After all, it is those who can react to their opponents fastest and hit them the hardest who have a better shot at making a living in the business of professional football. So all their lives, these players have been honing their instincts to inflict violence, which they appear to do well, but also appear to have difficulty transitioning from when they are off of the field.

I want to point out that this blog post is in no way trying to condone the actions of individuals like Ray Rice and Greg Hardy, rather it is an attempt at offering some sort of rationale as to why NFL players have a heightened tendency to commit crimes of domestic violence. It is possible that the FiveThirtyEight numbers are just a coincidence, but given the violent nature of professional football, it also seems possible that the intense demands of the NFL have created a culture of violence that goes hand in hand with football, and that the violence responsible for securing these players their job does not subside when they punch out of work.

panthers-vs-49ers-34-304xx2140-3219-0-537                 Baltimore Ravens Training Camp August 20, 2009

Source: Charlotte Business Journal               Source: Wikimedia Commons

It is clear that professional football players do their job well, but the amount of domestic violence cases in the NFL suggest that being a good professional football player might have some unwanted implications. With its long list of deep-pocketed supporters, it seems that the NFL will certainly continue to remain a business, but perhaps there is a way in which running this business does not have to have these kinds of consequences. Perhaps if the NFL took into consideration a few policies that favored amateurism over business, doing well at the violent game of football would not have to correlate with doing well at violence outside of football as well.

-Joe Shea

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2 thoughts on “The NFL: Violence Done Too Well?

  1. Joe,

    This is a very interesting post with good connections to Trollope’s piece. Your connection between violence of players on and off the field is definitely a legitimate one. However, I don’t really think the violence it takes to be successful on the filed is what contributes to the violence occurring on the field. Most NFL players have no issues with domestic violence, but the amount the select few are talked about in the media makes this issue seem to occur more frequently. This is not to say that domestic violence isn’t an issue in the NFL, but I just don’t think the players’ professional violence influences their personal violence too much. One thing to consider is how some athletes were raised in dangerous neighborhoods where witnessing violence was frequent so that could be an additional reason. I would argue that it is part of the players’ jobs to act responsibly off the field in order to keep them on the field. Players need to think before they act and realize the implications of their actions.

    -Aaron Simon

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  2. Joe,

    I found that your blog post was very well written and very intriguing. The statistics you showed really helped back up your position on violence in the NFL, helping to prove to the readers that this is a real issue. I found that it was very interesting when you said that players may not have an on/off switch that they can just utilize. While I completely agree with this, another interesting view to take on this subject is whether or not NFL players are only “playing” within the boundaries of play. As we have discussed, sports and games are played within a distinct field within a specific time. With this in mind does football not fit into the category of sports? While violence and aggression may be a huge part of the game, it should not extend outside of the game and outside of the boundary of sports and time where football is played. However this provides us with another argument; are sports at this high of a level still considered play or a profession? We discussed in class how the higher up you go in sports, the more professional and the less play it becomes, so is football in the NFL no longer a sport or play, but a profession? As we know peoples professions extend into their personal lives all the time, there is no boundary of time or space that separates work from home and in this case this remains true. So can we just classify professional sports as a profession and not play?

    -Justin Zipkin

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