As teams begin to report to training camp this week, I continue to find myself in a bit of a quandary over how a sport whose leadership shows such a continued indifference over how the public perceives it much less how it treats its players can still thrive.
As has been chronicled in a variety of places and in a variety of ways, the NFL’s attitude regarding the numerous instances of domestic violence committed by its players has been cavalier at best.
There are signs, in the post Ray Rice era, that the league is getting it, but the message still hasn’t entirely gotten through, witness Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Greg Hardy.
Hardy was convicted by a North Carolina judge of savagely beating a woman, then got essentially a year off with pay last year. He was scheduled to get a 10 game suspension this year, but the punishment was recently reduced to four games.
Just as troubling is how the NFL is dealing with the ongoing matter of head trauma to its players. While the league is doing slightly better at minimizing the risks encountered by current players, it continues to bury its head in the corporate sand when it comes to former players.
The latest example comes with former San Diego linebacker Junior Seau, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in nearly two weeks.
Seau made nearly 2,000 tackles in his 20-year career and the 268 games he played in is surpassed by only 10 non-kickers in the history of the league.
Seau’s penchant for playing the game at full speed and with no apologies was right out of NFL Films.
However, his 2012 death from a self-inflicted gunshot to the heart, was a page out of the league’s nightmares, as it opened questions about whether Seau’s headlong play opened him up to head trauma.
Those questions were answered the following year, when Seau’s family revealed that he had suffered chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to, among other things, dementia.
Junior Seau’s daughter, Sydney, will not be permitted to speak at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. A Hall of Fame executive says the reason is that for the last six years, only Hall of Famers are permitted to speak at the podium.
You can’t help but wonder, however, how interested the NFL is in having the offspring of one of its greats stand at her father’s greatest professional moment and perhaps ponder if the game he loved didn’t contribute to his premature death at age 43.
So, when the 2015 season begins, celebrate the joy that football brings, but take a moment to remember men like Junior Seau, men the NFL would rather you forgot.