The events of the past few weeks have once again brought into focus the question of character in professional sports and in particular the National Football League. The debate will surge a demand for more emphasis, better vetting, stronger punishments. Sixteen years in the NFL gives me a perspective that many talking about this subject don’t have and can’t fully appreciate. The immense popularity of professional football and the money that has grown as a result of that status has severely strained one of the pillars of America’s game – Character.
Selling your soul for the status quo
The NFL has inadvertently built a “sell your soul to get there” and “do anything to maintain the status quo” culture at almost every level. Winning is the bottom line for those tasked with doing just that; front office personnel, coaches, and players. If you don’t you’re replaced. Any edge is fully taken to gain the advantage, any. The NFL’s competitive environment is fraught with temptation. An underlying tradition of not “ratting out” teammates or showing any “sour grapes” has all but destroyed stepping up to do the right thing.
Character forged through sports
Other than the character forged in military combat, sports serve as one of the most powerful conduits in building and reinforcing this fading virtue. I’ve had my own opportunity to learn and grow from the lessons taught on the football field by some great men of character that I both played and worked for. Those that read The Football Educator and aspire to build a career in professional football know how I feel about this very important critical factor.
Checking the character box
Every year a pool of players is delivered from the ranks of college football for NFL personnel departments to sift through and sort. The “character” box is the first one filled out by professional football scouts and yet ultimately NFL Clubs decide on their own what will and won’t help them WIN. It’s this willingness to cross the line in the sand, the temptation to gain an advantage at all costs and despite the risk that continues to put the NFL in these situations; murder, dog fighting, domestic abuse, weapons charges, DUI’s, drug abuse, Spygate, Bountygate, Pilot Flying J, and the beat goes on.
No surprises here
Don’t believe for a minute that these should catch us off guard. In the case of Aaron Hernandez, NFL Clubs and League Security were fully aware of the background of this player now charged with first-degree murder. Just as they’ve been aware of the backgrounds and actions of many others that own, manage, coach, and play the game. There are some currently in the NFL that I wouldn’t let walk my dogs much less run my organization, guide my team, or wear my uniform. But we continue to cross the line, give second chances, and ultimately get burned.
Character is not a “sometime thing”
The best way to send a message is to actually “send a message”. Mistakes of the youth don’t have to eliminate chances for a future, but perhaps they should for a future in professional football. Maybe the vetting process should be improved for potential ownership. Perhaps coaches found cheating should go the way of Lance Armstrong and be banned from the sport. And recycling front office frauds could be called out on the front pages.
Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit.”
So is Character. Time to step up and do the right thing.