While sports aren’t for everyone, they play a big role in the development of a lot of young people. Parents and community leaders encourage participation in sports for a variety of reasons. It’s important to go back to those roots when we think about professional sports.
Many want their kids to get involved in sports to stay physically active and to learn good exercise habits — to help them grow up healthy and strong. Some want their kids to play sports to learn the value of teamwork and its importance to achieving short- and long-term goals.
Kids will also learn that people/players have different skills or roles to play in competition — there are obvious parallels in life. They learn the value of sportsmanship and how to overcome adversity and disappointment. They learn that failure will happen, often many times over, until they get a chance to feel the joy of winning or achievement — individually and as a team.
While parents want their kids to get involved in sports, few have the time or knowledge to coach. They entrust their kids to other coaches with the expectation that these individuals will serve as role models, teaching their children the rules, developing their skills, and the value of fair play. Coaches often have a big impact on a young person’s development. It’s for this reason parents carefully consider where they send their children to school or which teams or leagues they want to participate in.
In the NFL, much of this appears to go out the window. I mean, after all, at this level there are billions of dollars to be made. I suppose it isn’t a surprise, then, that these same expectations are too frequently absent.
In the NFL, if you want to gain an advantage on the football field, it’s encouraged that you manipulate the rules.
Fair play? Sportsmanship? Nah. Those things are inconvenient.
How about bounties to hurt opposing players? How about efforts to change the playing surface or to alter the equipment used in the game to your advantage? How about intentionally and illegally taping the sidelines of opponents at practices? Faking injuries to slow down an offense? How about manipulating which offensive players are eligible or ineligible as receivers and where they line up to gain an advantage? Or the latest iteration, how about intentionally putting too many players on the field in order to stop the clock when time is of dire importance?
These actions are applauded by some and admired by others. While some of them are more popular than others, coaches in the NFL are considered geniuses when they do some of these things.
There is a clear disconnect between what sports were always about, and why people wanted to get their kids involved at a young age, and what sports are about at a professional level. We’ve lost the integrity of the game. We’ve lost the sportsmanship. We’ve lost touch with the importance of fair play and we’ve become comfortable rewarding those who are successful by playing outside of those rules.
We’ve come to accept that these types of things are unavoidable.
Where’s the accountability for the role models and coaches at the professional level that parents have for those who are coaches and role models for their kids? Why do they get a pass? Should they?
Perhaps one day the NFL will take these matters seriously. They’ll be comfortable recognizing that intent to cheat or intent to gain an advantage dishonestly is enough to be reprimanded. Not all violations deserve the same punishment but it’s time for the punishments to get more severe and for coaches and front office members to get league imposed suspensions or bans if they keep it up.