5 Reasons the NFL's Way More Evil Than You Thought Possible
There's no secret as to why pro football is America's favorite sport -- it combines the best of athleticism, violence, and hilarious slapstick comedy all in one package. But the same way that we don't like to hear that our favorite electronics are made by child slaves, we also don't want to hear about the corrupt underbelly of our national pastime. But holy shit, guys, this stuff is getting hard to ignore:
They Sell Millions of Dollars Worth of Merchandise for Charity, Then Keep Most of the Cash
If you watch an NFL game during the month of October, you'll notice lots of players wearing bright, hot pink accessories -- pink shoes, pink wristbands, pink towels. Look on the sidelines, you see the same on the team staff. And sure enough, if you go into the NFL merchandise shop, you'll find piles of the same stuff for sale -- get a women's pink t-shirt for the low price of $39!
That Ravens shirt could be worse.
If you're a cynical type, you might think this is simply a promotion to sell more merchandise to women. But no, it's all for a good cause! It's part of the NFL's Crucial Catch program, intended to help cure breast cancer. The League pushes it so hard that for an entire month, this macho game turns a horrible shade of pink -- that's how much it cares about women, you guys!
Unless, you know, it involves giving them health insurance for mammograms and shit.
They boast that "a portion" of the proceeds from all of this gear benefits breast cancer research. So what's that portion, you ask? 75 percent? 50 percent? 30 percent?
Sorry, you all overbid. Try 10 percent or less.
That's right; the NFL collects untold millions each year from sales of pink this and pink that, and keeps 90 goddamn percent of it. Of course, they dress it up in such a way that it looks like they make almost nothing, but that takes some creative accounting. To hear them explain it, they donate 90 percent of all merchandise royalties to the American Cancer Society. Sounds great, except for that magical word "royalties" (instead of, say, "sales" or "profits").
According to Darren Rovell of ESPN, the NFL's modus operandi is to take a "25 percent royalty from the wholesale price (1/2 retail)". So if you buy a pink Tony Romo dishrag for $95, the NFL will take a quarter of half that price, or roughly $11.85, and donate a whopping $10.60 of it to the ACS. The rest goes to them.
The NFL doesn't dispute that, but claims that the remaining 80-some dollars they kept from the jersey didn't go into the pockets of the billionaires who own the teams. After all, they say, that money gets split among retailers, manufacturers, and the cost of running Crucial Catch. But here's the thing: since the vast majority of pink merchandise gets sold through the NFL (either at games or via their online shop), that makes them both the retailer and the merchandiser. And as far as running Crucial Catch goes, that's their campaign to promote the fucking merchandise. It's nothing but advertising for the women's section of their store.
Now add that some critics insist the 10 percent donation is actually more like 3 percent, and it kind of starts to look like the NFL just wanted a feel-good excuse to get women in on their merchandising bonanza. After all, it's not like they exactly have a great record when it comes to its treatment of women -- but more on that later.
They Buried Reports About How Dangerous Their Sport Is
As science digs deeper and deeper into how football works and what it does to those who play it, it reaches the same basic conclusion over and over again: "Jesus fuck, this is killing people's brains! Shit!" You can imagine how happy the NFL was to hear such constructive criticism, and the lengths they went to squash it are amazing.
Oh sure, you've seen lots of news in the last couple of years about concussions and how the NFL has tried to abandon its previous protocol of "Walk it off, your pussy!" But it took years of stubborn resistance to get there. In 2002, former player Mike Webster died at age 50. After his death, pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu examined his brain and discovered an entirely new disease. Though Webster had displayed signs of dementia and Alzheimer's prior to his death, his brain externally looked like a healthy person brain. The internal tissue, however, had degenerated to the point where it resembled that of an elderly dementia patient. Almost as if it had suffered some kind of trauma. But what about this man's lifestyle could possibly have caused such a thing?
"I'm sorry, what were we talking about again?"
Omalu named his discovery Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, soon learned of several more dead football players with similar issues, theorized many more were at risk of developing it, and marched straight to the nearest medical journal to publish his findings. It ... didn't go as well as he'd hoped. Omalu ended up submitting to Neurosurgery, the unofficial medical journal of the NFL. Its editor moonlighted as a consultant for the New York Giants, and his job was to twist science until it screamed "FOOTBALL IS HEALTHY AND CONTAINS ZERO SIDE EFFECTS, LET'S GO TOSS THE BALL AROUND THE BACK YARD, KIDS!" He and his peers attempted time and again to discredit Omalu and his findings, accusing him of medical fraud and quackery based on the hard scientific theory known as "we said so."
When this didn't work, the NFL attempted to drown Omalu out in any way possible. They published their own medical studies in Neurosurgery, all of which conveniently concluded that football did not harm the brain and that concussions were no more severe than ice cream headaches. They'd also hold impromptu press conferences and not invite him. That way, he couldn't defend himself against respectable league doctors scoffing at the weird medicine man bellowing about how America's Sport is somehow damaging the brains of the men whose job it is to slam their skulls against each other 75 times a game.
But it's not like it affects everyone ... Merely 76 of the 79 NFL brains tested.
Finally, when ESPN collaborated with Omalu for a 2013 documentary on PBS's Frontline, called "League of Denial," the NFL approached ESPN, reminded them how much money they would lose if football suddenly told them to suck it, and that was that. "League of Denial" quickly lost visibility, as ESPN followed the money and sided with its Sith Lord. For always, there are two.
But brain damage is far from the only way that ...
The Players Are Screwed as Soon as They Leave the Game
It's true that most businesses won't contribute much in the way of a retirement plan if you're there a short time -- if you put in three years at CostCo right out of college, you don't expect them to send you a huge check every month when you're 65. But here's the thing with the NFL: the average player lasts for 3.5 years. The spotlight shines on guys like Peyton Manning who play for almost two decades, but ignores the thousands of players at the bottom of the roster who play for a year, blow out a knee, and are never heard from again. And for those guys, the NFL's pension is basically minimum wage. This is one of the reasons that 78 percent of players are bankrupt or close to it within two years of retirement -- they don't have skills that translate to any other career, and are often too crippled to do physical labor.
"Dementia of the Parkinson's, plus a bad ... everything? You're hired!"
And that's bad news when you're trying to afford drugs.
Not the fun kind, either. According to a lawsuit filed by a paltry 1,300 former players, the NFL systematically dopes up its roster, supplying painkillers and other narcotics to ensure they can keep playing through injuries, long-term consequences be damned. It's not about healing, after all -- it's about letting them play through the pain long enough to go out there and try to recover that onside kick.
So, you have guys like Hall of Famer Richard Dent (MVP of the "Super Bowl Shuffle" 1985 Chicago Bears), who broke his foot and never took time off, playing eight games hopped up on pain pills. He now suffers permanent nerve damage. The quarterback from that same Super Bowl, Jim McMahon, claims he would down over a hundred Percocets a day, even during the offseason. And don't think it's just the old-timers: Jeremy Newberry retired in 2009, and the drugs he took to keep playing through injuries have resulted in bad kidneys, horrible migraines, and sky-high blood pressure. Quarterback Ray Lucas got hooked on pills during his career and couldn't afford rehab post-retirement. He was so desperate that he resorted to buying painkillers from street dealers. Wide receiver JD Hill's addiction eventually spiraled into homelessness.
This was on top of the indignity of being a Bill.
But hey, you can't expect the league to take care of these guys forever. After all, they're only taking in ten billion dollars a year, a number that is set to more than double over the next few years. Speaking of which ...
They Are Dicks to Fans
The NFL does not make it easy on your bank account to see a game in person. The average ticket price is $85, so taking a family of four to a game approaches a $500 cost (once you account for parking, etc). So why bother? Watch at home while the Cowboys play to 80,000 empty seats. That'll show 'em!
The old "Oakland special".
Except it won't, because then you can't watch at home. That's because of a convenient little scam known as the Blackout Rule, which removes local games from the TV schedule should they not sell out. In other words, if too many fans pay their mortgage instead of giving the league more coke money, then the entire city is punished -- the local station switches to infomercials for three hours as a petty "screw you" for merely being a fan rather than a rich fan.
People who love the sport, especially those in shit markets where teams struggle to move paper, despise the rule. Not that the NFL cares -- in fact, if they had their way, you wouldn't be able to watch the local team on TV at all. Under the original commissioner, Pete Rozelle, the Blackout Rule went as follows: no broadcasting of local games, period. Sellouts, playoffs, the goddamn Super Bowl? Either buy a ticket or fly your ass cross-country and watch it elsewhere.
That's what you get for allowing a Bond villain to run the show.
That lasted until 1973, when President Nixon took time from his busy schedule of losing wars and covering up burglaries to get cheesed off over being unable to watch televised football. Congress passed a law that ended the Blackout (except in cases where games weren't sold out), which Rozelle and the NFL accepted through gritted teeth. And even though they only grow every year, they still insist that free TV sucks for business unless every seat in the stadium contains at least one ass every week. Never mind the billions in ad revenue, merchandising, licensing fees, etc that would still pour in every year, even if not a single ticket was sold.
Hell, even the FCC called bullshit on this. In September 2014, they responded to fans calling for an end to the Blackout Rule by -- holy shit -- actually ending the Blackout Rule ... kind of. It's off the books, but the FCC still allows the NFL to enforce the Rule via its private contracts with the networks and cable companies who carry the games. And the NFL has vowed to keep it in place, forever.
They Punish Harmless Bullshit While Protecting Violent Players
If you've read anything at all about the NFL and its off-the-field issues, you already know about the Ray Rice situation. Basically, he was caught on video knocking out his wife with an uppercut, and then dragging her limp body away from the scene with the exact care and body language with which you would drag a bag of garbage to the curb. The NFL responded to this with a whopping two-game suspension (which didn't transmogrify into an indefinite ban until after video of the incident went public and triggered a massive outrage).
When TMZ has the moral high ground, you really need to reconsider your business plan.
But long-time fans know this is just the latest example of the NFL treating crimes -- particularly crimes against women -- as a minor public relations annoyance. For example, Pro Bowl Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was accused of raping a woman in 2010 -- the second time he'd been accused of doing so. The first time, the star had settled out of court with the accuser. The second, the charges got dropped after an incredibly shady investigation. For "violating the NFL personal conduct policy," he received a six-game suspension, which he successfully bartered down to four games after pinkie-swearing to never do it again.
That's still more than Quinn Ojinnaka got -- he was arrested for throwing his wife onto some stairs and spitting on her, and was given a one-game suspension. Dez Bryant got arrested for hitting his mother and received no punishment, aside from having to continue playing for the Cowboys. When accusations -- and photos -- emerged of running back Adrian Peterson having beaten his four-year-old son until he bled, there was no serious punishment until sponsors threatened to pull ad dollars.
"Beat Responsibly" isn't really a slogan you can get behind.
What's even stranger about this is that it's not like this is all happening in some loose, "anything goes" league of outlaws -- the NFL loves dropping the hammer on players. It's just that they save the real punishments for trivial bullshit. In 2012, Aqib Talib was suspended for four games for taking Adderall without a prescription or a sly wink from the team doctor. This is the same Talib, by the by, who was suspended one game for fighting a taxi driver, and zero games for allegedly attempting to shoot his sister's boyfriend (the charges were dropped because the victim was a sex offender, and the prosecution figured, why bother).
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor found himself in deep shit with his alma mater, Ohio State, for "receiving illegal benefits," which could have been his coach buying him a 30-cent pack of gum for all anyone cared. He withdrew before the hammer could fall, but the NFL suspended him for five games anyway, making him more than twice the threat to league integrity as the guy who knocked out his wife on camera. Then there's Josh Gordon who, at around the same time Ray Rice initially earned his two-game vacation, found himself suspended for 16 games -- an entire year. The charge? Smoking pot. But don't feel too bad for Gordon, as he quickly found his suspension reduced. To ten games.
Keep in mind he had passed 70 previous tests, and his positive was so low that it might have been secondhand smoke.
The moral is clear: if you're going to be bad, be bad in a macho football sort of way. And if it upsets the ladies, well, don't worry. We'll throw some pink clothes in the merchandise store they can buy. That should smooth things over, right?
For more likely sources of the NFL's evil aspirations, check out The 5 Most Terrifying Civilizations In The History of the World. And then check out 16 Video Games of the Distant Future.