9:00 AM EDT, October 16, 2013
There are dozens of reasons why the NFL deserves to go away, to be banished from our sight forever. There are at least two reasons why that won't happen.
Tradition and Peyton Manning.
The Oct. 8 PBS show "A League of Denial" was a journalistic masterpiece. If you haven't seen it, find it. It is everywhere on the Internet. It should be.
It was two hours that can be oversimplified in one sentence: For years, the NFL knew its players were suffering head injuries that would bring serious long-term damage, yet it denied that, stonewalled the players seeking help and spent millions to muddy the truth.
Many readers still respond to every written word about this with the predictable: "These guys knew what they were getting into. Why should we feel sorry for them?" That's wrong. They knew they were playing a rough game, that there would be bent fingers in their elder years. They did not know that many serious brain injuries would accompany those bent fingers.
The PBS show was devastating to the NFL, which deserved to be devastated.
When Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Lakewood), questioning Commissioner Roger Goodell during 2009 congressional hearings, likened the NFL to Big Tobacco, we had no idea that she had hit the right keynote. After the PBS show, we know.
What a despicable label to have pinned on you.
How do you suppose that will sit when the rich NFL owners next gather to chat about how things are going. These are people of high standing and repute in their communities. All know the value of goodwill in business, because it helped make them millions.
But now, a masterpiece of documentation and reasoned journalism has joined them at the hip with … Big Tobacco. Bye-bye goodwill.
Were the owners complicit or fooled?
Cleaning-house time, a necessity now, will probably move forward slowly and quietly in the NFL. People who internally championed the public relations camouflage and "lie, deny and hope they die" strategy will be finding positions elsewhere.
Just think how you would feel if you were one of the 32 owning entities signing off on that recent $765-million payout to old, injured players, and doing so with no admission of responsibility. That sure worked well.
A few weeks later, a public television expose makes you all look like fools. Your $765 million is exposed for what it really was — blood money with no Band-Aid. You write a check for $765 million and still get the image of Big Tobacco.
Those who hate reading about this stuff usually feel that way because there is a nagging little voice somewhere in the back of their mind that says: Gee, maybe they'll shut the NFL down, and I love the NFL.
No worries, mate. People are still smoking and NFL players will still be taking shots to the head. Our country's freedom allows us the right to be stupid.
The NFL is as woven into our fabric as the singing of the national anthem before games. The NFL's biggest game, the Super Bowl, has become the equivalent of a national holiday. There is no turning back. We don't abhor the smashing heads. We celebrate them.
Even those who should stand above it don't. The pedestals are crowded with hypocrites. Often well-meaning, but still hypocrites.
One of the main reporters on the PBS show, Steve Fainaru, is a season ticket-holder to the San Francisco 49ers. His brother, Mark Fainaru-Wada, also a reporter on the show, says he is a big NFL fan.
ESPN, purporting to be a journalistic organization, walked away from any connection, or credit, with the program despite considerable early involvement. Forget the journalistic bump it would get. It needed to protect its business interests with the NFL.
The breast cancer charity groups whose interests prompted pink shoes and towels in games last weekend in the name of "awareness" hadn't thought things through enough to see that they were using an inappropriate messenger. Breast cancer should pause before partnering with Big Tobacco.
Even the person typing this column is not above reproach. Isn't it a bit hypocritical to tap out column after column about the prospects for an NFL team coming to Los Angeles and then rip the prospective arrivals for being slimeballs on head injuries? A more honest column would question why we even want these guys in our city.
Nevertheless, the NFL is here to stay.
It is like our freeway system. Flawed, full of accidents, full of frustration, but impossible to do without. Similar to the government that keeps trying to fix the freeways, the NFL needs to start paving over its years of potholes.
In the meantime, we have the glue. Peyton Manning.
Has there ever been a more dynamic, creative, entertaining player in the sport? Is he not reason enough to keep the roads open while the paving crews work? Is there anything more fascinating in football right now than watching him get the Denver Broncos to the line, start gesticulating and obfuscating while he is changing the play, and then throw a completion into the soft spot he has identified in a defense he has confused?
And isn't it interesting that a sport that systematically ruined so many human brains now has, as its greatest attraction, the best and clearest thinker in its history?
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