Now that we’re just days away from the kickoff of the 2014 NFL season, it’s important to be caught up on all the latest quandaries and ethical dilemmas that surround the league — not out of any particularly negative interest or focus, but because the discussion about the league around the NFL is always one that is always informed by the fact that there are many things about the game of football that are decidedly coarse when it comes to thinking of players and owners as actual people. People that are subject to an incredibly violent game, who we, the fans, watch as they suffer life-altering injuries as they work under a Byzantine system of punishments.
The world that the league would like to live in and the world that the league actually lives in come into hostile contact every once in a while, and it’s important to be knowledgeable about what’s informing the discourse around the league. Consider this a primer for everything controversial that might be brought up during the games, before the games, and after the games.
1. The NFL’s drug policy is still contentious, for ‘normal drugs’ as well as PEDs
As you’ve probably heard, Josh Gordon’s season long suspension for a positive marijuana test was upheld, and while this sounds absurd on the face of it (and, to some degree, it is), the league’s reasoning is sound. Sort of. Because Gordon’s punishment, and the NFL drug policy, works on a series of automatic triggers, rather than any sort of judgement call (although you could call the policy itself a judgement call) and, for one reason or another, the Cleveland Browns wide receiver has been unable to stop smoking when he’s certainly possessing the knowledge that his livelihood depends on a clean test. Draconian policy? Perhaps, but the players have to be held equally culpable.
The steroid, HGH, and Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) half of the NFL’s player agreement is still in limbo, and that hinges on the NFL front office. According to a poll from ESPN, players are open to HGH testing if the league agrees to guaranteed contracts. This is weird, though, because the current Collective Bargaining Agreement already has has a steroid testing procedure in place — the only hangup is that the players want the commissioner, Roger Goodell, to allow for a third party to weigh appeals, something Goodell is loathe to give up.
2. The league just revamped their domestic violence punishments without actually changing anything
When Ray Rice was given just a two-game suspension for knocking his girlfriend out and dragging her out of an elevator, there was, understandably, an uproar, especially since it came in the wake of Gordon’s season long suspension. While the two were unrelated, it appeared (and still appears) that the league cares more about the rules than the moral and ethical implications of properly punishing players who do things that are, without question, wrong. To that end, the league released a statement earlier this week announcing new changes to its domestic violence policy, only upon further inspection it appears that the NFL hasn’t actually shifted its position one iota.
Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky, who also published the league’s statement in full, nailed it in his synopsis, writing that “all this change does is sub in a loose baseline—six games plus or minus ‘mitigating factors’—for a previously undefined suspension length that could always have been as long as Roger Goodell wanted it to be (emphasis his). The NFL could have chosen to suspend Ray Rice for six games without passing these rules. The NFL could have suspended the next player to beat the shit out of his wife for six games, without needing to refer to any new rules. ”
3. Concussions are still a huge deal
As the link between concussions and long term brain damage becomes more and more concrete, the NFL is going to have to pay more and more attention to the fact that, simply, playing football may not be good for your health. Wes Welker made headlines when he suffered a hit to the helmet during the preseason, his third in the last year, but the league has already reported over 60 concussions in just the preseason, way more than the 40 listed from last year, per Forbes.
We are living in a football universe where CTE is a reality, and where the most sacked player of all time is openly admitting to memory loss. Simply put, the discussion around concussions is not going away any time soon, and it won’t be muted much, if at all, once the games start to matter.
4. The Redskins controversy isn’t going away
There are analysts who won’t use the name on the air. There are referees who have requested not to work on their games because of the name, and their owner is a guy who is preaching a legacy of proud tradition while not-so-secretly inferring that unless the public helps to fund a new stadium to replace the not-actually-that-old FedEx Field, he’ll move the team.
“I think this region, not only this town, this region deserves a Super Bowl,” Redskins owner Dan Snyder told reporters, after saying that they’d begun the process of planning a new stadium “[w]hether it’s Washington, D.C., whether it’s another stadium in Maryland, whether it’s a stadium in Virginia.” Which is nothing less than ownerspeak for ‘We’re not staying in FedEx Field, and if you guys don’t want to help, we’ll happily move out.’ It would be the perfect synopsis of Dan Snyder’s run as an NFL owner for the Washington Redskins to keep their name, because of ‘tradition,’ while moving their team to Maryland.