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Is the NFL your Kids' Keeper?

Daniel X. O'Neil/flickr

The debate over one man’s responsibility to another is as old as mankind itself, dating all the way back to Earth’s first sibling rivalry, between Cain and Abel.

In more recent years, that discussion has stretched to sports, where no less a figure than Charles Barkley has declared that he, and by extension other athletes, are not role models.

But can it really be that facile? Can an athlete with national or global visibility simply play their game without pondering the consequence of how they play on others, especially kids?

Or more to the point, is there a link between an athlete hawking shoes, clothing, beverages and food and a responsibility to well, be, socially responsible to the people you’re trying to sell stuff to?

A couple of events connected with the National Football League, that most prominent league of all, got me thinking recently about the connection between sports figures and young people.

The more important of the two came a couple of weeks ago when supermodel Gisele Bundchen, the wife of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, let a secret about her husband slip.

During an interview on CBS This Morning, Bundchen said Brady had suffered concussions, including one during the 2016 season.

That fact was unknown outside the Brady household, including, apparently by the league and the Patriots.

A day later, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees told a national radio audience that he would not tell his wife if he had suffered a brain injury that was not already detected.

Brady has yet to utter a peep on the subject, though his agent and Commissioner Roger Goodell both chimed in to say that Brady was not diagnosed with a concussion this past season.

That may very well be, but at a time when the public is hyper sensitive to concussions and their long lasting effects on football players, the message that Brady and Brees are sending couldn’t be more tone deaf.

That players of the stature of Brees and Brady could be so evasive about something so important as brain health must be troubling to men and women who coach younger players, many of whom are more interested in playing time than being honest about when they’re hurt.

Far less important but still significant is the NFL’s decision last week to relax rules about on-field celebrations.

The league will allow players to more fully express themselves after touchdowns, so long as the celebrations are team oriented, not suggestive and don’t drone on.

Goodell has drawn criticism from some quarters for presiding over the so-called No Fun League, as referees have been encouraged to drop penalty flags on players who take that obnoxious Kool and the Gang song, Celebration, too literally.

Again, the NFL’s decision will please glory-seeking, self-indulgent players, but will be hard for youth coaches who try to preach good sportsmanship in the ranks.

Charles Barkley may be right that athletes shouldn’t be used by parents and coaches to raise kids, but those athletes should give a darn about what those kids see and how they process what they’ve seen.  

And that’s how I see it for this week.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.