Dear National Football League,
Hey, there. I've missed you. I mean, not so much during the month when the World Cup dominated my every waking thought, and I think it is so considerate of you to give me that space, but these last couple of weeks have been brutal. I'm glad you're coming back. I am. It's just, there are some things that we need to talk about. I've been putting this off for a while, and you could call me a coward for resorting to this heartless blog post, but that would require you having a mouth to vocalize your complaint, and if you'd have had a face then I'd have said this to it, so this is all really your fault in the first place.
I'm sorry. This isn't how I wanted this to go. I want to be clear. I like you. A lot. Maybe even more than like you. I think we could really have something special here, it's just... Sometimes you make me uncomfortable. this was the only way I was going to be able to tell you, so here how it's going to work. You know the old story about the two dogs fighting inside the old man, and the one he feeds the most winning? We're gonna do something like that, without the dark Vickian undertones.
Maybe you can help me out here. I'll take a meander through my thought process of preparing for your return, and every time I get to something that says we stick it out and work on things, you take a drink. Each time I get to something that makes me want to punch your notface, I'll take a drink, and we'll just see where things wind up.
First, this season is shaping up to be one for the fantasy ages. The general offensive explosion has been delightful, really, you should be proud. Throw one back. Letting Chip Kelly have Shady and Sproles? You shouldn't have. Then Lesean comes out and says he is the best back in the game, because he excels in all facets, and AP doesn't catch the ball, that we should be excited to see what he does after a full season with Kelly. To which the Vikings respond by saying that AP will have a much larger part in the passing game. This is building into a 2002 Alexander-Tomlinson style dual, also known as the McGuire-Sosa moment that launched fantasy football across the nation, and that is before even mentioning Jamaal Charles!
Or Ray Rice.
Damn. Got here quick. Well, maybe getting one in early will make the rest of this easier. It isn't even Rice, really. It's Rice added to the ridiculous way you treat your cheerleaders, added to Darren Sharper. Wait, is that three drinks together? Look, I'm not blaming you for any one of those things. Well, the cheerleaders, I am. Come on, you're all millionaires and you're nickel-and-dime-ing the women? Rolling things together it starts to look like a pattern, and a pattern would be a problem. I'm not asking you to all morph into the Spurs, but let's just try to dial the douche back a factor, eh?
Right! Excited. Yeah, Shady, Kelly, and the Phoregon Eagles will be fun, but Detroit, Denver, and Green Bay all look loaded and healthy, and Drew Brees might turn Brandin Cooks into Wes Welker's Terminator-style evolution. I can't remember a time when the league had this much elite depth at so many positions. Megatron, Green, Bryant, and Gordon are un-coverable. Well, Gordon isn't coverable even when he is allowed to play. While from high up here in the northwest corner of the country, we might have a hazy view of these things, but I think we can rein back on the paternalistic moral judgements on substances that don't give you any particular competitive advantage.
Like dunking. I guess I'm not drinking on this one, but really, the hard line on celebrations baffles me. I hope it is about something other than just being able to say no. Or in this case, being able to say no to Jimmy Graham. I imagine having this conversation with one of the soccer players I got to coach -
Kid: I want to play left forward.
Me: We don't have a left forward.
Kid: I want to play out wide, take advantage of my size and speed, and attack, but also be able to come inside sometimes and just use my size to push people around.
Me: Oh, that's left midfield. That's what you already play.
Kid: Look, coach, I'm an attacker, I gotta think about attacking, I'm gonna go out there attacking. I need to think of myself as a forward.
Me (if I was you): No, shut up and go play midfield. Forwards are expensive. Call yourself what I tell you to call yourself.
No, look, I'm sorry, it isn't all bad. I mean, sure you may be a bully who pushes players around a little bit, but you haven't forcibly separated someone from a multibillion dollar asset on no more than an illicit recording of a personal opinion. Although people would probably like you more if you did. Maybe the trick is to be tyrannical only in response? You could probably win a tremendous amount of support if you came down heavy on the side of the cheerleaders. Maybe mandate that it's part of the shared revenue contract? You must spend 1/10% of the cap on cheerleaders? $133,000 might be enough to run a cheerleading squad. The 6 teams who choose not to employ cheerleaders could make a similar sized donation to a suitable charity of choice.
Everyone seems so defensive these days. Maybe because we are collectively becoming more aware of how easy it is to offend? Sorry if my footishball, not footyball, drifts into foggy metaphors on occasion, but the defensive response to the noted offensive explosion has been so much fun to watch from our front row seat in the Emerald City. As noted in my musings on the homonymic counterpart to our rugged game, it is difficult to flip the narrative and force the defensive efforts into the foreground, but the two west coast behemoths and J.J. Watt do so on a regular basis. I hope you're drinking for all three of those champions because the last two years have been glorious.
While we are stopping by the coast, though, how about all these young guns, out to make their name, like an old school Clint Eastwood movie, before he got all subtle and artistic: Luck, RGIII, Wilson, (my boy) Kaepernick, and even Newton. Well, while everyone else seems to keep getting shiny new upgrades, Superman's life keeps getting more difficult. His only decent receiver fled to Baltimore, which kind of say something by itself. How bad is life if fleeing to Baltimore actually seems like an improvement (for clarifications see: The Wire)? In addition to losing his best receiver, Cam also lost the best lineman on the team, Jordan Gross.
Here we are, then. I'm drinking in anticipation. Gross is a Pro Bowl tackle 12 year veteran who just retired, leaving millions on the table, and throwing an unstable team further into chaos. I remember when Barry retired, how my world fell to the left in a disoriented stumble. Then I didn't understand why anyone would quit while they were still good. I was a little upset that he hadn't destroyed every rushing record in the world. Since that day I have had the good fortune to meet a former professional football player.
Well, I have met several former professional football players, including Barry himself, but I have gotten the chance to get to know one. Like Gross, he was a starting offensive lineman, a veteran of over a decade, and he had walked away with money on the table because he could walk away. Not a lot of players get to make that choice. So many more go out like David Wilson, or catch a knock in training camp and never get a shot in the first place. That's why when Gross retired, I wasn't confused or upset at all. I was relieved.
This is a physical game, and getting more so by the year. There is more than enough evidence that this game can cause permanent brain damage. I guess this is about Sam Gordon, the girl who set Sports Center on fire by beating some little team into the ground. While the media offered self-congratulatory platitudes of gender equity, all I saw was 8 year olds playing full contact football.
I worry about brains, and insurance, and kids. And I worry about you, NFL. Because if you don't figure out how to stop hurting kid's brains, we aren't going to be able to friends anymore. And I'm going to be ok. Soccer and basketball both figure to translate intriguingly to zero gravity, so I'm set for a while, I imagine. You, on the other hand, are going to have a tough time finding people who can put up with you if this goes much further. And not just me. Decent people.
So please, sort your mess out. For both of us. I know I'd be fine without you, but I'd rather not have to be. This may difficult to hear, but I think it might be time. Change is always tough, but we are all here to support you. You can do this. It's time.
It's time to take the pads off.
Your dear friend,
Thoughts on culture, community, and development.