23 May 2012

The NFL's Descent into Absurdity

"No amount of manifest absurdity could deter those who wanted to believe from believing." - Bernard Levin 

courtesy of Getty
At some point this offseason, the NFL devolved into a full-fledged, delusional, bumbling monolith. 

After all, I guess it was inevitable at some point. What's the saying

Absolute power corrupts absolutely? 

I'd say we're seeing the fruits of that on a daily basis. 

Maybe it didn't come out of nowhere. Perhaps this is just the natural byproduct of an entity's life-cycle and end-game, and we're here in a day and age where that sad faltering is played out on the public stage. 

But no matter how or why it happened, the NFL has gone mad on a scale broader than just how it relates to the Saints.  

Evidentiary support for this descent is nowhere more prominent than in its silly lampoon of a Commissioner who is in the process of turning the NFL into equal parts rigid police state and has-been, laughingstock. 

Among other things, Goodell's reign has overseen the dispensing of extreme punishments--not only during BountyGate--as the defining trait of his imperious rule. In the Saints' case, he shattered the bounds of reality by simultaneously guillotining the team's front office, coaching staff, and defensive captains for what now appears to be a myriad of mischaracterized allegations and hollow pronouncements. 

At a point in NFL history when no coach had ever been suspended for even one game, Goodell banished Sean Payton for an entire season. When pressed for reason, Goodell, of Payton, said  "if [Payton] [wasn't] aware of it, [he] should have been." 

Losing his marbles? courtesy of KSK
There distilled is Goodell's monumentally-limited capacity for reason and reaction: the most extreme of punishments dispensed for something Goodell suggests Payton might not have even been fully aware of. 

With his twisted logic, Goodell justified all at once the damage to Payton's professional reputation and bank account (~$7M), coupled with the intended hampering of the Saints' ability to compete optimally. 

It was the most preposterous of overreaches and deranged of responses; moreover, it's emblematic of a Commissioner and a league so power-drunk, narcissistic, and deluded as to blindly believe that any action they take is reasonable and justifiable, no matter how ludicrous in reality. It's the reactionary chopping off of hands for the accusations of theft. 

And the NFL finds this acceptable. In fact, they endorse it. Because for all of their omniscient, infallible, self-congratulatory cocksuredness, they could never possibly be wrong. 

Am I right? 

Do you remember a month ago when the state of Minnesota was debating the merits of building a new stadium for the Vikings? When the MN state legislature gridlocked over how to disburse taxpayer money in an already cash-strapped state, Goodell warned the Governor and state legislature there'd be "serious consequences" if the state didn't pony up $550M in public funds.

So now the NFL deigns to publicly threaten a sitting governor into spending taxpayer money as the NFL sees fit? And mind you, this was pressure from Goodell so that the NFL and Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf--both penurious hoarders of billions of dollars between them, and cooperative, financial beneficiaries of the stadium's ultimate development--would have to contribute the least amount possible for the stadium's creation. 

It was not just an act of wanton, Stalinistic hubris but also a blindingly disturbing disconnect from reality. And a microcosm of the NFL's myopia and perversity. 

What's more is Goodell's alienation of the players to the extent that he's now been personally sued for slander and libel by Jonathan Vilma. Is there a precedent for this kind of acrimony in professional sports? Is this the kind of public confidence and goodwill-building that the NFL seeks? Players suing their commissioner? In what category of the league's 2012 business plan was that found? 

And how did Vilma's colleagues respond? They lauded him as a hero and called him a "badass" for having the balls to stand up to Goodell, something thus far no one has had the fortitude to do. In my opinion, the players seems to be universally antagonistic towards Goodell. And for good reason. 

Theater of the absurd. courtesy of Deadspin
Goodell, in fact, has done such a poor job at managing player relations that he stooped to transparently and embarrassingly bear-hugging each draft pick last month in a desperate attempt to sway player opinion in his favor.

Uh, I don't think it worked.

It's gotten so bad for Goodell that NFL player representative Jay Feely recently said this:
"A lot of players don't believe he has their best interests at heart ... If he did, he wouldn't have 200-plus workmen's compensation complaints caught up in the appeals process. He wouldn't be dismissing disability claims right off the bat. There are so many things that happen behind the scenes that fans don't know about that make players distrust him."
How does the NFL rationalize their supposed overarching concern for player safety in light of those sentiments? Are they oblivious to the vacuity of their words, the widening alienation of their labor force, and the offputting, self-serving pretense with which they ceaselessly operate?

With the expiration of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement prior to the 2010 season, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to a one-year stopgap before negotiating the next CBA (the one you remember from last offseason, otherwise known as the "lockout"). 

Specifically for the 2010 season, the league and the players' union agreed upon an uncapped salary ceiling for each team, lifting the total salary restrictions teams normally operated within season-to-season. In short, the uncapped 2010 season--in theory--enabled any team to spend as much as it wanted on player contracts. 

However, this didn't really happen. NFL owners decided in secret to limit spending as if there were a cap, in effect colluding to suppress wages. Their rationale, presumably, was to prevent an arms-race that would force teams to spend beyond the scope of what they otherwise were accustomed to spending. Big-market teams would have a distinct advantage in an uncappped year, largely due to revenue generated from merchandising and other sources not included in the league's revenue-sharing model. 

While this collusion was bad enough in and of itself, that wasn't the extent of it. 

Two of the NFL's more enterprising owners--Jerry Jones (Cowboys) and Daniel Snyder (Redskins)--agreed to the under-the-table collusive agreement, then decided to use the cap-free year to their advantage. 

It was bloody, ruthless capitalism in its rawest, finest glory. 

Without boring you with the details of how Jones and Snyder did so, let's just say that while "violating" the handshake deal made with the other owners, neither Jones nor Snyder factually engaged in any illegal conduct as the NFL was legally operating in an uncapped year. 

However, two months ago, the NFL slapped both the Cowboys and Redskins with stringent penalties for contract violations during the uncapped year. Even though the 2010 season operated free from salary restrictions and even though the NFL approved every contractual move both teams transacted during that year, the NFL still punished the teams for salary cap violations. How? And why? 

Let me allow ESPN's Dan Graziano to better explain:
"The Redskins and Cowboys got in trouble because they didn't go along with this game, instead using the lack of a salary cap in 2010 to structure contracts in such a way as to spare themselves from salary-cap trouble in future years. The sense is that many, if not all, teams did this, and that the Redskins and Cowboys just did it to such an egregious extent that some of the other owners insisted they be punished ... Which is baloney, of course, because you can't break rules when there aren't any."
So what you have is a collection of owners secretly colluding to limit its employees wages--after agreeing with its players' union to not do so--and then collectively deciding to punish two teams who legally did nothing wrong, but violated the spirit of a previous violation. 

Ludicrous to the nth degree. Graziano, one more time:
"There's no way that any sensible, thinking person who's not an NFL owner can honestly feel that the league acted justly in penalizing the Cowboys and the Redskins for spending their money and structuring their contracts the way they did during the uncapped 2010 season. But it doesn't matter, because the NFL plays by its own rules and no one else's, and that's the lesson for today." 
And if all of that isn't already enough for you, most recently in perhaps their silliest act of sophistry that would fool only the most fatuous among us, the NFL produced a "study" that, for the most part, concluded that one actually lives longer by playing professional football. Yes, football is good for you! Who'd a thunk it?!

Really, the NFL is so far gone that they believe they can make the general public (or NFL players) think that playing football is correlated positively to the longevity of one's life. If it weren't so effortlessly laughable and ridiculous, it would be infuriating. In the meantime, it's yet another stark example of the NFL's precipitous tumble into the absurd.  

Instead of taking the time to debunk the utter nonsense of their study, I'll direct to you the Angry Who Dat blog that tackled the subject expertly, exposing the flaws in the league's methodology and conclusions. Give it a read. 

Then just yesterday in an act of equally nonsensical posturing, the NFL owners mandated that, beginning in 2013, all NFL players must wear knee and thigh pads. What is this, 1943?

Let me get this straight. In an era marked by the disturbing prevalence of head injuries and concussions, the NFL has responded to this problem by mandating ... knee pads? Hmm. 

Who's advising these clowns? Congress? Instead of instituting strict seasonal baselines or mandating vetted, independent neurologists at every game, or revisiting its helmet and mouthpiece technology, the NFL has decided upon thigh protectors. 

You can't make this shit up. They do it all for you. 

Sadly enough, it's increasingly clear that the NFL is losing, or has lost, its fastball. It's impossible to look at the totality of circumstance and think otherwise. 

The league has devolved into an aimless, reactionary, bloated, drunken, empire of absurdity. It was an impressive and enjoyable ride to the top but now we're witnesses to its awkward, unsightly fall from grace. 

Try not to stare. 

It was fun while it lasted. 

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