Maybe, just maybe, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t a complete dunderhead.
Wouldn’t it be something if his ham-handed approach to various disciplinary issues over the years – Spygate, Bountygate, Deflategate and assorted domestic violence cases – was actually a diabolical scheme to goose up NFL interest? To make the league more like a maddening soap opera in which you hate the main character but can’t turn away?
That would be pure genius, which seems unlikely unless others are pulling Goodell’s strings. But no matter the silliness of his decisions, they effectively keep the spotlight away from the gravest issue the NFL wants to downplay: the mental plight players can face.
Former NFL quarterback Erik Kramer reportedly shot himself in a suicide attempt last week. His former wife told NBC News she believes his depression is partially a result of head injuries he endured during his 10-year career, primarily with Chicago and Detroit.
The incident occurred just one week after the late Junior Seau was inducted into the Hall of Fame and NFL officials were terrified that his daughter would detail the deteriorating psychological conditions that led to his suicide.
Earlier this year, four players aged 30 or younger decided to retire. Former San Francisco linebacker Chris Borland said long-term brain health was his motivation. “I just want to live a long healthy life and I don’t want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise,” the 24-year-old told ESPN.
Surely the NFL wants our scrutiny focused elsewhere, not on depressed, broken players and their concussion lawsuits. Those fellows make you question the adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
At the very least, there are degrees of unfavorable attention and you can’t blame the league for welcoming a less-harmful diversion. Domestic violence did the trick until a “controversy” in the AFC Championship Game took over.
Excuse the pun, but this is a no-brainer: PSI beats CTE as a preferred topic of discussion.
Squabbling over footballs’ air pressure (pounds per square inch) is much easier than deliberating on football’s potential side effects (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). There’s no telling if Deflategate is one big conspiracy to keep us distracted, but it has dominated the offseason, intentionally or not.
“I’m not sure if (Goodell) realizes what he’s doing is brilliant, but what he’s doing is brilliant,” Cleveland’s Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas told ESPN after practice on Sunday. “Because he’s made the NFL relevant 365 [days] by having these outrageous, ridiculous witch hunts. It’s made the game more popular than ever and it’s become so much more of an entertainment business and it’s making so much money.
“That’s why I’m sure there’s plenty of people saying this is embarrassing for the league,” Thomas said. “But it’s an entertainment business when it comes right down to it. When the game gets eyeballs in newspapers and on TV, that’s what in the end is the goal for everyone. And that’s what this controversy is giving them.”
Viewers haven’t gone away. According to Pro Football Talk, the Hall of Fame Game between Pittsburgh and Minnesota drew a higher overnight rating (6.9) than Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Game 1 of the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Finals and Game 1 of the American League and National League Championship Series.
Viewership remains Exhibit A in Goodell’s defense that he deserves to keep his job.
Perhaps more importantly in the long run, participation hasn’t nosedived as many anticipated it would after concussions became a national story.
While the number of youth playing high school football is down overall (37 of 51 states, including D.C., showed a decline), the rate has remained steady or increased in other areas, according to recent data from the National Federation of State High School Associations. According to analysis of a recent study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, The Washington Post reports that the number of 6-to-14-year olds who play organized football dropped only 4 percent in the last six years.
We don’t know if Kramer’s depression is a direct result of football. It doesn’t help that his 18-year-old son, Griffen, died from a heroin overdose in 2011. Some former players have killed themselves while others haven’t, which can be said of any profession.
From this viewpoint, there’s a clear link between football, CTE and other symptoms exhibited by many former NFL players. The strength and depth of that link is something for researchers to determine.
That discussion is much more worthwhile than temperature’s effect on inflated balls.
But give ol’ Roger credit for making us look the other way.