The National Football League (NFL), beloved by fans across America, has been a hot topic in sports media lately. Some of the attention is mostly positive and some is decidedly negative. Either way, the NFL is mostly getting attention for the wrong reasons.
On the one hand, there are situations like NFL draftee Michael Sam. Sam, assuming he gets signed by a team, would be the first openly gay player in the National Football League. For the most part media attention over his case is mostly positive. Sam has been called a hero by some. Former linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo even compared Sam’s case to that of Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks. This seems like a slight exaggeration and is an example of how situations like these often lose perspective. The climate in the NFL might not be friendly toward homosexuals, but there is not systematic or legalized persecution.
As far as player reaction to Michael Sam goes, it has been decidedly mixed. While there has been support for Sam, other players are more apathetic. For example, players like DeAngelo Williams and Charles James indicated that they did not much care about another’s sexual preference and that it was no one else’s business.
It does take more than a little courage to stand up for one’s beliefs and lifestyle. Going against prevailing opinion is not easy and Sam should be commended for that. However, this an example of the NFL getting attention for the wrong reasons. A person’s sexual preference has very little to do with actual football, as some NFL players themselves have pointed out. It is important to keep things in a proper perspective. The overall climate of intolerance faced by people like Robinson and Parks is nothing like it is today. For example, until until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African Americans faced legalized segregation in much of the country. As for sexual preferences, perhaps the best path toward tolerance is to recognize that a person’s lifestyle is not a big deal, one way or another.
The NFL has also been in the news for less than positive events lately. The scandal surrounding Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin is most likely something the NFL would love to forget. Incognito and two other Miami Dolphins teammates stirred up trouble by repeatedly harassing Martin, a former Dolphins offensive tackle.
Apparently, simply bullying Martin was not enough for them since they also extended their activities to a team trainer as well as another player.
The interactions between Martin and Incognito were rather complex and convoluted, but the results turned out to be nasty. According to an investigative report, Martin claimed he contemplated suicide on a couple of occasions in 2013.
The actions of Incognito and others is something that the NFL probably does not want to get attention over. The sad fact is that this sort of behavior is hardly confined to the NFL. The issue of bullying, and how to deal with it, is an important topic, but it is unfortunate for the NFL that organization has become a bit of a case study for the topic.
The topics of Michael Sam and Richie Incognito are too very different cases, but both examples of the National Football League getting attention for the wrong reasons. In the case of Sam, the situation is generally positive but is blown out of proportion. The case of Incognito is something the NFL undoubtedly wishes never happened. There are directly football related issues that deserve more discussion, such as the issue of player safety and how it should be addressed. Hopefully, the National Football League will soon be in the news for the right reasons again.
Editorial By Zach Kirkman
New York Daily News