It was hard to watch the Super Bowl without thinking that the NFL has had a rough year. And while the pre-Super Bowl scandal of #DeflateGate is certainly not in the realm of serious issues such as domestic violence and child abuse, it is representative of a pervasive problem in the leagues culture—a lack of character. Pre-game pundits wondered if the aura of cheating would haunt the Patriots even if they won. Would the crowd, commentators or even the officials, have a decidedly pro-Seattle slant in an effort to put that scandal to bed?
While we can’t say for certain whether or not the Patriots did cheat, we know that they have been accused of it in the past, and that this football culture where the “rules don’t apply to me” is certainly not unique to New England or the NFL. We see the issues with this culture at every level of the sport. It is instilled at a young age, especially in universities and high schools across the country where teachers boost the grades of a star quarterback, where campus scandals like the University of North Carolina’s “sham classes” that get brushed under the rug. When they get to the big league, the issues just get proportionally bigger. And while integrity is no longer required of professional athletes in pretty much any sport, the NFL seems to get more than its share of “bad boy” behavior. And it seemingly begins at the college level, and even earlier.
I understand on the surface it seems trite to discuss the air within a football against marked regulations that has spanned into a nationwide debate; but this takes on an iceberg effect, especially when the league’s head proclaims it is his job to protect the integrity of the game. Yet we’ve seen little to no action from the league that attracts millions of eyeballs, generates billions of dollars and influences countless numbers of our youth.
The icing on the cake came in the final moments of the game, when the professed “good guys” from Seattle behaved as badly as any of the villains and bad actors we’ve seen. The NFL needs to take a long, hard look at itself this upcoming offseason and develop a serious game plan in working to deflate this bad boy culture. For starters, the league should consider improving its relationship with the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA) in developing their conduct policy, which would provide a much-need backbone to reinforcing quality character.
As I’ve said before, “Character is measured by your actions when you think no one is watching,” and in this instance, character stands by your actions when EVERYONE is watching. I must say congratulations to the Patriots organization on taking home their fourth title, but to the NFL—despite your recent progress on image, I must emphasize the need to be better when brandishing “your shield.”