At the same time, there is a controversy afoot in professional football that for many strikes at the core of the game; the ability of a player to do what he has been taught to do since he began to play, perhaps as young as those boys in Fruita.
The furor emanating from players, fans, and media alike over the NFL's stated intent to suspend players who are judged to have tackled or hit another player in an excessive manner has taken a unique turn in recent days, focused primarily on the reaction of Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison to being fined $75,000 for a hit on a Cleveland Browns player this past Sunday.
Harrison is a very talented, very passionate player who has enjoyed great success. He also wears his heart on his sleeve and demonstrates a commitment to his profession that is an example for anyone who pursues a profession of any kind. As such, it's not that surprising to me that Harrison and his agent publicly acknowledged that he is considering quitting the game in response to what is happening to it.
The reaction to Mr. Harrison's statements have ranged from accusing him of whining to a passionate support of his stance in relation to other attempts by the league to profit from the sport's often violent nature, while leveling punishment when it is needed to save face. ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth called the NFL out for this very thing, and made several valid points.
I can easily dismiss this in comparison to other problems in my world and elsewhere, perhaps even with the cliche' "it's just a game". As we all know, however, it's more than that - it's a billion-dollar business with great numbers of citizens expending considerable financial, mental, and temporal resources as fans.
The NFL expects its players to set examples for those in our country who look up to them as role models and representatives of the league. In that context, I thought about what would happen if players like James Harrison decided that their own self-respect and work ethic trumped the considerable financial rewards that come from their participation, and elected to walk away from the game. What sort of message would that deliver, I wonder?
It will be interesting to watch how this plays out in the coming weeks. The NFL is apparently having problems selling out games of late. I feel that if they continue along this path, combined with the possibility of labor unrest after this season, the attractiveness of the game to those who play it and watch it will continue to diminish.