Thursday, May 31, 2007

The NFL As Nanny State

Your great questions (including a new one from Erika about Venezuela and Hugo Chavez) will be answered in due course, but I just had to say something about this.

Apparently, according to this news release, the NFL is banning alchohol for all players, team officials and executives, staff and guests at all NFL events including the travel to and from those events.

Well, I never...

It seems that the "nanny state" instinct has invaded the NFL. According to the release, NFL Commissoner Roger Goodell says that the decision comes in the wake of incidents in the NFL like the (highly disputed) case of Tennessee Titans cornerback Pacman Jones. Jones, who was to have been suspended for the whole 2007 season without pay, was involved in an off-field incident at a strip club where he was charged with public intoxication.

The release also intimates that the decision also comes on the heels of the death of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock who was found to be drunk when he fatally crashed his vehicle on April 29th of this year.

I would like to start by saying that I do not endorse drunk driving or committing violent acts while intoxicated. The act of getting intoxicated and the actions that follow are voluntary and you should be punished for doing them; that's why there are laws that govern such things (although public intoxication can be a law that is often grossly abused).

What I take issue with is the idea that, since there were sports people involved in alcohol-related crime, this means the problem is epidemic, could cause the downfall of the NFL and requires swift and drastic action from the very top.

Give me a break. All this is is the commissioner punishing a large group of adults for the crimes of a few, for which these few are already punished by the law. The commissiar (and I use this word advisedly) of the league would claim that the reputation of the league is at stake and, by God, the only way to save it is to make sure that everyone in this league never drinks for any reason at any time while it could even be tangentially construed that they are on league time.

Using this same logic, one could imagine that, say, the Securities and Exchange Commission could say that alcohol at company Christmas parties and picnics shows badly on the company and the business community at large. Therefore, if you want your company to have publically listed stock, you must ban all alcohol from company events, including even salesmen in the field travelling on company business.

The sad thing is that this plan does not seem far-fetched at all. We live in a society that loves the abstract notion of freedom but hates the particular expressions of it. We love to see people like athletes as "role models," and I guess that we want to see whole sports leagues as shining beacons of morality that represent the best of America.

What does all of this show? It shows that the NFL does not trust its adult affiliates to be responsible for their own actions and decided to add another layer of restriction on top of the laws of the land. It shows that hoary old impulse to try and protect people from themselves is not just a natural instinct of governments, but corporations as well. It shows the further demonizing of alcohol and those who use it in our larger society (when you live in a society founded by Protestant religious fanatics, what could one expect; look at our sexual hang-ups for chrissake).

Will this make the NFL better? Well, I guess that depends on how you define "better." Will people not drink while on the job, at the aforementioned events. They can't now; they will lose their jobs. Will this do anything apart from frustrate people? Not really. Does this show that the NFL is out of touch? Yes and no. Yes because any sane, rational person can tell the difference between someone who made a mistake and is paying the price and an epidemic that threatens the integrity of the system at large. No, because this is how some people think large organizations should function; drinkers are bad, we hate stuff that is bad, therefore...

I, for one, point to two sterling examples of athletes who were at the absolute tops of their games and were some of the most monumental drinkers of our age: Andre the Giant and Joe "Willie" Namath. Read their stories (as told by the marvellous bastards of Modern Drunkard Magazine and revel in their talent and their exploits.

Then tell me that athletes (and all of the support staff around them) should never drink while even loosely involved with league activity.

If indeed sports are a reflection of the society from which they come, then this move by the NFL is absolutely indicative of our society's confounding relationship with alcohol and, to a larger extent, liberty.


Matt Jenks said...

You do realize that Pacman Jones suspension wasn't just for the nightclub incident, right? And that he was also involved in the shooting and the beating of the stripper?

Also, Hancock's dad is apprently suing everyone involved, including the tow truck driver and the driver of the car because they were in the way.

You also forgot to point out Tony LaRussa passing out drunk in his car during spring practice, the whole mess that is the Cincinnati Bengals, the dozen-or-so DUIs handed out every year to professional and college athletes during their seasons, the kid at Illinois who ran into a tree, drove back to his apartment, and left his friend in the car because he thought that guy was already dead, and feel free to ask that guy who was driving with Dany Healey a few years back in Atlanta what he thinks about this change. Oh, you can't. He's dead.

The league is suffering one black eye after another, be it Tank Johnson's arsenal or Michael Vick's no-kill kennel, and I think the NFL Commish is trying to head off any more incidents before they get started. Look for other leagues to follow suit.

Now, if someone else kills themselves or a bystander in a drunk driving accident, the blood is not on the NFL's hands; it's on the dumbass who drove 80 mph into the back of a parked tow truck with its lights flashing. And perhaps the hooker who didn't understand she wasn't supposed to take all the money when someone makes it rain.

Anonymous said...

Let me begin by saying that I enjoy drinking alcohol more than the average person.

I would say thought that you are thinking about this entire situation in the wrong light. It is any private corporations duty -- no its duty -- to follow the bottom line. The NFL has decided that its profitability rests on having good publicity, and they are right. The owners get money by getting parents to take their kids to games not having the marginally better displays of athleticism.

They will get more money from having sober mediocre players than drunk great players who splash the headlines with crappy publicity. Like any private business, they hire people who maximize their profits. THe NFL has decided that sobriety maximizes profits and maybe they are right, but regardless it isn't a nanny state making the decision, rather an employer. The fact that the NFL is a private organization and not the state makes all the difference in the world. I have no problem if the Betty Ford Clinic begins firing drunks on their payroll.