The NFL’s problem isn’t bullying or racism or tribal tattoos or a fascination with gun culture or hair extensions — those are merely symptoms of the league’s losing battle with brain disease.
…And the source of this disease is the unmitigated, unrestricted and implicitly encouraged use of performance enhancing drugs, namely human growth hormone.
HGH testing remains non-existent because the NFL, a nonprofit organization which takes in $9.5 billion a year and does not pay taxes, wants its owner-controlled marionette commissioner Roger Goodell to have final say in all appeals that do not involve a direct positive test.
Thusly, one man possesses the sole power to act as judge, jury and pasty executioner were a player or group of players indicted on HGH-related charges.
Understandably, players aren’t willing to cede control to the commissioner and the commissioner won’t budge. As a result, the HGH testing program that was codified 2011 has stagnated for two seasons. Clearly NFL higher-ups have learned a thing or two from House Republicans about using stall tactics to blame the other side for their unwillingness to budge.
Even as it filibusters, the NFL denies there’s a problem saying a positive HGH test could potentially happen in one out of 20 cases, or fewer.
And yet, in the 24-month timespan HGH testing has been stonewalled, the hits have only gotten harder, the players’ transgressions bigger and the real-time damages more frequent and severe.
Junior’s scrambled brain
When he ended his life in 2012 by shooting himself in the chest, Junior Seau had a degenerative brain disease often linked with repeated blows to the head.
Seau’s family requested analysis of the All-Pro linebacker’s brain and the National Institutes of Health said earlier this year Seau’s abnormalities are consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
After 20 seasons in the NFL turning his head into a Vitamix sixteen weeks a year, the 43-year-old had had enough; his family, said they weren’t aware of CTE until the analysis but noticed changes in his behavior congruous with the disease.
Seau is not alone.
Boston University’s center for study of the disease reported 34 former pro players and nine who played college football examined suffered from CTE.
The NFL faces lawsuits by thousands of former players who say the league withheld information on the harmful effects of concussions.
An Associated Press audit of 175 lawsuits, 3,818 players have sued the league and at least 26 Hall of Fame members are among those named in lawsuits.
The NFL acknowledges there is a problem with concussions and yet its legal stance maintains brain disease just kind of happens as bugs dying on a windshield is a byproduct of driving.
As the wattage of the hits and the injuries keep piling up, so do the tragedies, one seemingly grabbing the headlines from the prior.
And no calendar year has been more deadly than October 2012-’13.
Belcher’s murder/suicide and Hernandez’s cold-blooded offseason killing
On Dec. 1, 2012 Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed Kasandra Perkins, his longtime girlfriend/mother to his three-month-old daughter, and then drove to team headquarters where he shot and killed himself in front of his coach and GM.
Chiefs GM Scott Pioli arrived at Arrowhead Stadium for a morning team meeting to find Belcher holding a gun to his head in the parking lot.
“I’ve done a bad thing to my girlfriend already,” Belcher told Pioli asking to talk to head coach Romeo Crennel and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs.
When Crennel arrived, Belcher said: “You know that I’ve been having some major problems at home and with my girlfriend. I need help. I wasn’t able to get enough help. I appreciate everything you all have done for me with trying to help… but it wasn’t enough. I have hurt my girl already and I can’t go back now.”
Belcher asked that Pioli and team owner Clark Hunt take care of his daughter. The Chiefs begged Belcher to put down his gun, instead he loaded a round. “You’re taking the easy way out!” Crennel told Belcher, according to the report.
As a police officer approached, Belcher knelt behind a vehicle, saying, “Guys, I have to do this… I got to go, can’t be here and take care of my daughter.” He made the sign of the cross on his chest and fired a bullet into his head.
On June 17, 2013 then Patriots Tight End Aaron Hernandez allegedly fatally shot semi-professional football player and acquaintance Odin Lloyd and left him in an industrial yard near the player’s home.
Hernandez is now jailed, awaiting his murder trial.
A sample platter of other NFL player arrests in 2013:
• San Francisco defensive end Aldon Smith was arrested in September on suspicion of DUI. In January 2012, he was arrested on suspicion of another DUI. In June of that year he was stabbed at a party and in September of this year he was named in a lawsuit by a man who was shot in the leg during that same party.
• Cincinnati defensive tackle Andre Smith was arrested in January 2013 on a charge of carrying a loaded gun at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
• In January, Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain paid a fine for an illegal car window tint. In April he was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in Alabama.
• Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey was charged with misdemeanor simple battery in January after an altercation with his girlfriend.
• Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff was charged in January with DWI after after his pickup truck struck an 18-wheeler.
• Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Robert Sands was charged in January with assault in the fourth degree, domestic violence after a fight with his wife.
• Former Falcons linebacker Michael Boley was arrested on child abuse charges in August.
• Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was convicted in February of assaulting an officer. He was also found guilty of resisting arrest.
• Titans tight end Brandon Barden was arrested in February after an alleged drunken rollover crash.
• Detroit Lions safety Amari Spievey was arrested in March for 3rd degree assault, risk of injury to a child, disorderly conduct after child support dispute.
• Falcons safety William Moore was arrested on a simple battery charge in April.
• Arizona linebacker Daryl Washington was arrested in May and charged with two counts of aggravated assault after an alleged argument with an ex-girlfriend.
Slurs to suspension to???
…Now the story of last week’s Richie Incognito’s suspension. The Miami Dolphins’ guard’s harassment of teammate Jonathan Martin, a first-year lineman from Stanford, led Martin to quit the team and the team to suspend Incognito indefinitely …along with zero disciplinary sanctions from the league.
The pair had a history of smack talk which began in April when Incognito left a friendly voicemail for Martin calling him a “half n—– piece of s—,” and adding, “F— you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you”
This set off a skirmish that lasted more than six months, 1,400 texts and countless one-to-one epithets, culminating with a text Martin sent Incognito before his October departure saying, “I will murder your whole f—— family.”
Just grown men being boys, Incognito maintains.
“Now, do I think Jonathan Martin was going to murder my family? Not one bit,” Incognito said. “He texted me that. I didn’t think he was going to kill my family. I knew that was coming from a brother. I knew it was coming from a friend. I knew it was coming from a teammate.”
Incognito defended the actions that pushed Martin to quit as words that “came from a place of love.” Most likely, the same place of CTE-fueled love Ray Lewis came from in the Jan. 31, 2000 stabbing (with broken Champagne bottle) deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar.
Incognito’s history is spotty and his behavior is consistent of one who is suffering from abnormal brain function: The NFL wrist-slapped the suspended lineman in 2012 over allegations of molestation of a female volunteer at a Dolphins charity golf tournament as well as a still undisclosed second incident that required team discipline.
Whether Martin’s excusing himself from the situation sparking the Incognito media storm prevented real-life tragedy down the road is speculation; what remains fact is the league currently contends with more arrests, felonies, deaths and incidents involving violence and slurs and indecipherable tweets than all other professional American sport combined.
And yet, in spite of top players’ plea for some semblance of control and testing, the league continues to blame its indentured servants.
Marquee players insist on testing to create a more level playing field, but the subtext is clear: they also fear for their own health, safety and longevity.
Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson earlier this year said he’s “been hoping that they did this a long time ago. To even out the playing field …I can’t wait until they draw my blood.”
Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco, agrees. “You want to go out there and you want to play on an even playing field, and you want the best to be the best. You can test me and my guys as many ways as you can. The last thing I want is to have my guys, who I’m pretty sure are natural, going against guys who aren’t.”
Operative words: pretty sure.
From his book released in September, Slow Getting Up, former NFL tight end Nate Jackson talks at length about his need to use HGH after being cut by the Denver Broncos in 2008.
Jackson’s description of the drug’s use in the NFL as commonplace as drinking a sports beverage on the sideline is the major plotline of the 261-page biography.
In an April interview with The Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal an NFC starter who remained unnamed conservatively estimated up to 15 players on each team take HGH. “It’s like clockwork nowadays. Not tested and it’s easy to get. Nowadays, dude? In 2013? [Expletive] yeah. I’m just being real.”
As the drugs are increasingly available and affordable and the crowds still line up to cheer on Sundays buoying annual league revenue to the GNP of a country like Jamaica, and individual average team valuation rises to more than $1.1 billion, testing that could derail or at least damage not only reputation but slow down the product on the field.
In other words, cryogenically frozen Al Davis and his tracksuit have a better chance of returning to the league than the introduction of an enforceable HGH policy.
And the bullying, ranting, abuse, assault, pool statue commissioning, misogyny, battery and, in extreme but decreasingly rare cases, suicide and murder, will continue to replace Vince Lombardi’s fedora and hot librarian glasses as the league’s hallmark.