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.
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.
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.