Lucas Williams, Staff Writer
“Deflate-gate” is one of the most ridiculous NFL controversies in recent memory, and former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe agrees. In a piece for Time Magazine published Thursday, Kluwe argues that the New England Patriots’ alleged football deflating is the least of the NFL’s problems.
In a league where the outcome of a game is more fretted about than the well-being of athletes, Kluwe writes that the NFL is “built on breaking people,” and that the league wants people to focus on “the minor thing they can pretend to fix rather than the major thing they can’t.”
Kluwe writes of athletes who inject themselves with both legal and illegal performance-enhancing drugs out of fear of playing poorly and losing their jobs. He documents the NFL’s tendency to downplay players’ domestic abuse and criminal scandals in the name of a positive brand image. He points out that public funds, which could have been used for education and infrastructure, are instead employed to erect massive stadiums that will inevitably wear out and need more egregious amounts of public funds to replace. And here we are worrying about a few footballs.
Especially after reading Kluwe’s article, I don’t understand the blind obsession with sports, especially football. Sure, it’s fun to watch people tackle each other and run across a stadium field in a neo-gladiatorial way, but while doing so, it’s easy to ignore the fact that the players are human. As human beings, the players are susceptible to heart disease, high blood pressure and arthritis just like the rest of us. Each game they play takes a toll on their bodies that most people will never know the magnitude of.
After years of denying that concussions had any negative impacts on future health, the NFL admitted in 2009 that concussions are damaging to overall health. Additionally, a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain repository found that 76 out of 79 deceased NFL players had suffered brain damage while they were alive. This brain damage has been linked to depression, memory loss and dementia. Deflated footballs have had no such effects on players’ health. Instead of defending the sacredness of a sport, the NFL should take more precautions to ensure the lifetime safety of their players.
Going further than health risks, the NFL leaves something to be desired when handling players’ criminal records. After former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulted his wife in February 2014, other wives of NFL players have spoken out about the league’s coercive nature. Dewan Smith-Williams, estranged wife of retired NFL player Wally Williams, told The Washington Post that as an NFL wife, “it’s so ingrained that you protect the player. You just stay quiet.” Smith-Williams alleged that the NFL discourages players’ wives from reporting domestic abuse for fear of tarnishing the NFL’s brand.
Unfortunately, players are golden while playing for the NFL. Criminal allegations to current players are taken too lightly, and the declining health of retired players is rarely addressed by the league or the general public. Instead of illegal drugs, health risks and crime among players, the NFL would rather focus attention on what Kluwe calls “a ‘controversy’ that’s not really controversial at all.” Football fans need to be aware of more than just the air pressure in a few footballs and get down to what the NFL should really investigate.