By JaLang Greene
The National Football League is now arguably the most popular sport in the United States. Fan attendance is at an all-time high, television contracts are profitable for both the league and media networks and corporate offices are stacked with office pools and fantasy football leagues.
However, there is a darker side to the NFL that continues to provide the public fleeting glimpses of a disturbing culture behind the scenes.
The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) came under fire this summer after being accused by former players of not paying adequate disability benefits after retirement. Gene Upshaw, Executive Director of the NFLPA, responded to these criticisms by calling some of the accusers "dumb."
This is hardly the way you would expect an executive member of management to behave, especially one who is reportedly making over six million dollars a year to be a voice for those same players.
Usually members of the media are more concerned with criticizing players' end zone celebrations than holding executive management accountable for transgressions. On a daily basis professional athletes are battered by a constant bombardment of editorials or talk radio rants designed to rile up and infuriate the emotional fan base of the sport.
Yes there are lazy, arrogant, pampered and spoiled pro athletes that provide enough fodder that cannot be defended by any sane person. Think John Rocker or Michael Vick. But there are plenty of athletes who are hard working, family oriented individuals who become victims of the uglier aspect of the sport.
For instance, take Troy Williamson.
Williamson, a wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings, has received more press lately for circumstances outside of his athletic prowess.
After Williamson's grandmother passed away at the beginning of this month, he was allowed by the team to fly back to his native South Carolina to be with family and handle the burial arrangements.
Upon returning back to Minnesota a week later, he was notified by coach Brad Childress that he was being docked a game check ($25,000) for missing the previous Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers while still in South Carolina.
Childress referenced some ridiculous comparison to other NFL players who also suffered family deaths but rejoined their respective teams after a few days.
Isn't a coach paid to know their players, relate to them, maximize their potential and support them through times of crisis?
Grieving is handled differently by individuals and should not be manipulated to fit an agenda. Williamson's grandmother raised him and his handling of the situation has been classy.
He told the Pioneer Press "I don't care if (the Vikings) would have took my pay for the rest of the year, I was going home; it wouldn't have mattered to me. No matter what (Brad Childress) would have said, if I had to stay up here or not, I would have been at my house (in South Carolina) for that week."
The punishment of Williamson was a public relations nightmare to the Vikings, who in recent years have dealt with a wrongful death lawsuit by the widow of former lineman Korey Stringer; a lewd conduct filled boating scandal and the releasing of former wide receiver Marcus Robinson on Christmas Eve last year.
The Vikings have since recanted and awarded Williamson his game check. But in a move that proves this situation was not about money, but about the love for a deceased family member, Williamson pledged to use the paycheck to start a charity in his grandmother's name.
The NFL has continued to show an aggressive vigilance in fining players for dancing in the end zone, wearing uniforms socks too high or low, yet there is no requirement for players to wear mouth guards, knee pads or rib protectors despite the violent nature of the sport.
If you are looking for flawed principles, the NFL is chock full of them.
Send e-mail to JaLang Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org.