Human beings are funny creatures, sometimes. One of our most enduring tendencies is the way in which we will directly correlate one thing with another — often so stubbornly, it is nigh impossible to disentangle the two.
Here in Australia, the national football code known as Aussie rules football, is frequently referred to as AFL. “He plays AFL,” an ecstatic parent will say of their knucklehead twelve year old child.
As you may have gleaned, AFL is an acronym for Australian Football League, the major professional organisation for the sport. It is not, in fact, a sport unto itself, rendering any claims to the contrary as grossly misinformed.
Deride though I may, it has recently occurred to me that I myself fall victim to this trend, and again, it applies to a sporting context.
When I began watching American football in 2002, I was consuming 99% National Football League content. It stands to reason that this was the case, not only as this is the highest level of the sport, but also the most readily available. There are college games here and there, and in some years ESPN even bothers to broadcast the Grey Cup, but by and large, my impression of the game of pigskin was tailor made by the NFL.
In these days of comparative innocence, I was dazzled by the high octane, often brutal and sometimes heartbreaking nature of the league. I quickly shifted from an adolescent with no interest in sports to a young adult whose very identity was deeply entrenched in the Tennessee Titans.
For years, I tried to shoehorn the uninspiring ‘tackhead9’ moniker into my online branding, oblivious to the notion that it resembles any other number of random passersby in an SBNation comment section.
In the last few years, I have all but divorced myself from the Titans, snakebitten by years of middling performances and what I consider to be the negligent obliteration of Marcus Mariota’s career. For the record, I didn’t come up with that fantastical headline, but the rest of the point stands.
Without this feverish obsession for a singular franchise clouding my perspective of the product as a whole, I have now begun to understand that the NFL, like any other major corporation, is merely a front for a soulless, hideous beast that craves nothing but optimised revenue.
There were indications, even at the height of my fandom, that the league was not in fact infallible. Predominantly, such concerns were directly correlated with the pompous, sneering sycophant Roger Goodell. Throughout my myriad of blogging endeavours across the years, I have spewed endless venom in his direction, and with good reason: he embodies the greed and arrogance of the league as a whole.
More directly, however, I find myself asking how I can justify investing any time or money into a brand that would not only re-employ a serial killer, but celebrate said return.
You’ll have to pardon the hyperbolic distinction, as the literal definition of a serial killer is commonly, “a specific type of homicide involving the murder of two or more persons in separate incidents, with an interval of time between the homicides”.
As far as I am aware, no ‘persons’ were murdered by Michael Vick. Just a lot of innocent, terrified and barbarously tortured dogs. Had his actions towards hundreds of canines at Bad Newz Kennels been directed at, say, even one human being, he would be villainised forevermore; spoken of in the same hushed whispers as Aaron Hernandez.
For his prolonged, violent, and heinous crimes, Vick served 18 months in a federal prison. That is ten fewer months than Wesley Snipes served for tax evasion, just in case you were at all interested.
Following his release, he was gobbled up to play backup QB with the Philadelphia Eagles. Upon the departure of incumbent starter Donovan McNabb in 2010, Vick was elevated to full-time status, guiding Philadelphia to a playoff berth and garnering the distinction of the NFL’s comeback player of the year.
Other such awardees include Alex Smith, who returned to the field following a leg injury that threatened amputation or possibly even death, and Tedy Bruschi, who missed the preceding season after suffering an ischemic stroke.
Vick continues to be commemorated, with many fondly remembering his escapability and cannon of an arm. In 2017, the Atlanta Falcons held a retirement gala in his honour. There are many who feel as though he has done his time, and point to his charitable efforts as indication that he is a changed man.
You are entitled to this opinion, and honestly, I will not think any less of you for having it. Perhaps you are merely more benevolent than I, as I will not be swayed on my beliefs.
So as we prepare for Deshaun Watson’s triumphant return from a suspension borne from more than two dozen sexual assault accusations — that kind of alleged conduct sure didn’t slow down the Hall of Fame enshrinement for noted good guy Brett Favre, did it? — I am left asking myself why I should be any more enthused about this league than, say, Vince McMahon’s despicable WWE product.
No major league is wholly innocent, and there are countless instances of leniency in the face of criminal acts across the board. Hell, it’s potentially even worse behind the closed doors of the gaming industry, considering that Activision Blizzard continues to effectively print money in spite of their litany of transgressions.
But the NFL just feels… off. Sleazy. Keen to wash their hands of a past riddled with painkiller addictions, backwards approaches to social issues and numerous cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Now, they adorn their helmets with progressive statements like “choose love” and “inspire change”, some four seasons after the commissioner demanded that the players stand in honour of the national anthem.
Colin Kaepernick, the one courageous enough to instigate the discussion, saw his career go down in martyrdom. I doubt he will ever see the opportunity to claim a comeback player of the year acclaim of his own.
How dare he insult the sanctity of the flag! I’m sure the almost entirely white, billionaire team owners understand the suffering of the nation, at least. Right? …Right?!
So you’ll have to excuse me if I profess to being a BC Lions fan first and foremost, embracing the Canadian cousin of the sport I once loved so wholly. And if you want true inspiration, beyond token efforts from a business whose excess best resembles the production of foie gras, I suggest you start considering lesser ballyhooed alternatives such as, oh I don’t know… the WNBL.
Trust me, a mere fraction of Ezi Magbegor makes for a better role model than 100 Michael Vicks.
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