Jamal Black is a guest writer for TFDS. He is a long time NFL fan and co-host of the Two Tone Crew podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Jamalisms
Little Guy, meet Big Guy. Big Guy, meet Little Guy’s Attorney. Rinse, repeat.
The NFL’s ongoing legal battle with former Saints players over the alleged misconduct they undertook as part of “Bountygate” made for an interesting offseason story line and, despite that the regular season has finally arrived in all its inherent splendor, Bountygate continues to garner interest around the NFL as it winds a long, weary path to conclusion. Little about this story is mundane. It pits the league against one of its own teams. It represents some of the most stringent penalties ever imposed. Given the brevity of player careers, it masquerades even as a story pitting men seeking to earn a living against an all-powerful and unreasonable superior.
On a macro level bountygate is but a part of the league’s attempt to reconcile a violent game with the legal ramifications of player safety. Roger Goodell’s tenure as league commissioner has been marked by two, somewhat conflicting issues. On the one hand, he has seemed to be genuinely concerned with the matter of reforming the league through crackdowns on player conduct, both on (safety) and off (general misconduct) the field. On the other hand, the league has struggled with finding an acceptable path to come to terms with the human results of a game with such brutal past.
Estimates vary and seem to change daily, rendering any specific count prone to becoming fast outdated, however thousands of retired players claim severe physical consequences of the NFL’s violent nature. They contend (and the NFL denies) that the league has historically concealed its knowledge of such physical risks and is therefore responsible for the results over time. Whether or not that is true, the fact that the commissioner has taken such a public and unwavering stance on improving player safety has resulted in an interesting balancing act.
In terms of public opinion, the NFL’s actions present the paradox that cumulative injuries suffered by former players were the result of choices reasonably and appropriately made at the individual level, while current players must be protected from themselves. It is a tenuous position at best.