“If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” –Charles Colson, chief counsel for Richard Nixon
During a 17-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, Wide Receiver Chad Ochocinco made a reception along the sideline that was later called upon for review. The Cincinnati Bengals Wide-out took the opportunity to playfully offer a referee a single dollar bill, jokingly in exchange for the call to be in favor of the Bengals.
The ref ignored Ochocinco. The call was made against the Bengals. The game continued without incident.
The following week, word came out that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fined Ochocinco $20,000. And the leagues tyrannical disrespect of its most important asset… the players… continues.
In defense of the fine, ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen argued “The integrity of the game is critical to us. (Ochocinco’s actions) will not be taken lightly.”
This would make plenty of sense, if there was a single person who truly, honestly believed that Ochocinco intended to bribe the officials. If there is only one person among the millions of NFL fans watching the game who believed Ochocinco’s bribery attempt was legitimate, then the leagues integrity was in question, and the fine was fully deserved.
Except that… there isn’t.
There is not a single NFL fan out there who, even for a second, thought that Ochocinco was serious. No one with an ounce of common sense would actually believe that a professional football player would attempt to bribe an official in the middle of a game, filled with fans and cameras, with only enough money for a Taco Bell Burrito. On top of that, there is a very high probability that not a single fan remains who takes ANYTHING Chad Ochocinco does seriously.
Lest we forget, this is the same individual who used Twitter to post 100 consecutive “Yo-Mama” jokes.
The simple fact is, despite Ochocinco’s actions, the integrity of the game was never in question.
So then why was he really fined?
The truth was, the fine against Ochocinco was just another example of the Commissioners office maintaining a repulsively dominant relationship with its players.
To inform him of the fine, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, Ray Anderson, wrote in a letter to Ochocinco, “The very appearance of impropriety is not acceptable. Your conduct was unprofessional and unbecoming an NFL player.”
According to Mr. Anderson, the reason Ochocinco was fined wasn’t due to the actual act of bribery, but was because his manner was indecent for an NFL player. Apparently, the NFL takes great pride in having its players act like gentleman.
An NFL player… who, according to Anderson, must demonstrate a sense of professionalism… is a very unique creature. An NFL player is someone whose life revolves around the game, usually from the time they’re in middle school. An NFL player is someone who has beaten the odds, proven themselves better than the hundreds of thousands of wanna-be NFL players, and has somehow risen to the level of elite, where they are given contracts incredibly smaller than any professional athlete in any of the other major sports. An NFL player is someone whose contract is not guaranteed, and who has an average career length of a little less than one full season. An NFL player is someone who puts his body and his livelihood on the line every day and every play. An NFL player is someone who must face the reality that, at any given second, their career could be over.
That’s when they become a former NFL player. Now a former NFL player is something completely different. Someone whose hands look like they’ve spent time in a sausage-grinder. Someone whose knees and back will ache for the remainder of their lives. Someone who’s missing significant amounts of time from their memory. Someone who’s paralyzed. These are all adequate descriptions of former NFL players… regardless of how “unbecoming” they might be.
Dwight Harrison was an NFL player. He was an NFL player for 11 years. He played for the Broncos, Bills, Colts, and Raiders. Now he lives in a FEMA trailer that has no running water. He also suffers from head injuries and post-concussion syndromes that occurred when he was… yeah, you guessed it… an NFL player.
Harrison is just a single example of the thousands of former NFL players without the means to support themselves, with injuries from his playing career handicapping him.
The sacrifices these men make… and the disgustingly large profits made at their expense… borders on the oppressive. Some people take issue with the NFL paraphernalia made in sweatshops across the globe, while the truth is the actual slave labor occurs right on the field.
At first glance, it would seem unfair to compare the NFL restricting touchdown celebrations and prop-driven-antics to the despicable treatment of players, both former and current.
But it’s all under the same umbrella. They can’t get guaranteed contracts. They can’t guarantee the continuation of player-benefit programs after the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2010. They can’t even get creative control of their own touchdown celebrations.
Recently, a company called Diageo, the owners of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, were offering to donate sums up to $100,000 every time an NFL player was caught on camera doing the famous “Captain Morgan” pose. The intended recipient of the donations? Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, the non-profit corporation established to provide financial assistance to needy retired NFL players.
This past week, the NFL announced that any player caught striking the pose would garner a significant fine.
In one decision, the league offices were able to disrespect both their current players as well as the former ones.
In a seemingly unrelated note, Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams was seen giving Buffalo Bills fans the middle finger during his teams 41-17 victory this past weekend. On Tuesday, he was fined excessively.
In response, Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan said “I condone fun things. If he was having fun doing it, than by all means, do what you do.”
The players don’t seem to care if their owners act unprofessional or unbecoming. Perhaps because they’re so use to it.