The NFL has come under fire in recent months over its response to multiple domestic abuse cases involving two of their most well-known stars, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. Both cases included acts of excessive violence, with players in both cases being subsequently suspended indefinitely, while legal proceedings ran their course.
Both Rice and Peterson took the necessary steps to get back on the field this season but won’t play. The NFL, and its image, hasn’t been this scrutinized since Pacman Jones’ glory days around the mid-‘2000s. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes one enormous blemish for change to occur. The league’s initial actions can be conceived as them trying to keep the best product on the field but, as criticism grew steeper, Goodell began righting his wrongs. Perhaps, he learned from fellow commissioner, Adam Silver of the NBA and his handling of the Donald Sterling investigation.
Image is one of the main things that’s at stake here, especially when you consider that female viewership in the NFL is on the rise. Females have been responsible for increases across the board, including the 2013 Super Bowl, Thursday and Sunday Night Football respectively. It’s something that needs to be taken into account moving forward, in not only handing down punishments but also in the understanding and solving of these deep-rooted social issues moving forward. Fewer than 20 percent of black teens grow up in homes where both biological parents are present since birth, something that may or may not contribute to players’ actions.
“Correlation, of course, does not imply causation. Though it might be wrong to suggest that broken homes cause violent crime, it would be equally wrong to ignore the impact that a turbulent upbringing can have,” said Gary Bauer of USA Today.
With such a rash of unfortunate events, one’s sympathy goes towards the victims, sure. But is it possible that these athletes, whom our children grow up aspiring to be, are bred for such unspeakable acts? Former NFL linebacker, USFL player and Rutgers alum Andy Carino has been through the tour of duty that many young men go through in order to play in the world’s most popular, and profitable, professional sports league.
“At Rutgers, we almost had like an Ivy league education. It was actually a little bit harder for us,” said Carino. “Coming up, there were schools like Louisville, that you could just go there and they wouldn’t be as academically challenging. If you have a higher academic standard, then you’re not getting the players in.”
And if teams don’t have the players they need in order to win championships, then they’re not going to make as much money off of television deals, donors, sponsors and other related avenues. While we don’t have the ability to pull every elite collegiate athletes’ grades, one can get a glimpse into what it’s like being a student athlete by taking a look at The Wainstein Report. The report, by former federal prosecutor Ken Wainstein, uncovered an 18-year-old scandal at the University of North Carolina, which according to the report, had students enrolling in paper classes. Several players have come out and accused members of the school’s athletics department for perpetuating an environment where grades were not made a priority. Tar Heel basketball and football teams have captured nine bowl wins or national titles in that span, while sending countless amounts of players into the NBA and NFL.
“Look at Marcus Dupree’s story, they’re getting these kids and telling them they’re special, this and that and once they blow a knee it’s over,” Carino said emphatically. “It’s big business. [Bill] Parcells once told me, ‘Buddy, we’re not in some schoolyard somewhere. People pay a lot of money to make this thing happen.’”
What’s being illustrated here, and what is also such a complex issue at heart, is that adolescents are being shown only one way. Youth are being funneled into athletics, and are basically programmed to spend more time in the weight room and less time in the class room, a place that often sets them up to succeed after their pro careers. The average NFL career lasts just three years and yields an average total salary of about $4 million. According to Sports Illustrated, 78 percent of NFL players are bankrupt or financially stressed two years into retirement. While the numbers are not quite clear, out of any professional sports league, the NFL would appear to have the most collegiate athletes because of their lack of minor league system.
Now, geography and income play a large role in what transpires here — teenagers pushing themselves for that hefty pay day that they often will lose just years later — but there’s also something greater going on and it is fostered in college. The coddling that youngsters receive playing high school football is reinforced just as much, if not greater, than they previously were used too. The now 51-year-old Carino, who spends his time managing the Dolphin Fitness chain he helped found and mentoring little league football and baseball teams, played four years at Rutgers and was a captain his last two years. Carino claims that this is where young men are brewed to be self-righteous, violent beasts.
“There’s a warrior intellect that’s bred into these athletes because it’s hard to separate,” Carino alleges. “Herschel Walker; a great guy. He had multiple personalities and stuck a gun in somebody’s face. He beat his wife.”
He recalls those instances from the book, which Walker published, called Breaking Free, My Life with Dissociative Personality Disorder. Carino was teammates with Walker, for a short stint, when the two played for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. The two had spent time together of the field, going on double dates, attending barbecues and things of that nature. The former Rutgers star became friendlier with the Walker family; Carino knew his wife Cindy because the two grew up in the same neighborhood of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. Though Carino says, in regards to locker room code and what goes on behind closed doors “I don’t think you really talk much. You practice, study and go home.”
Time is limited when you play a professional sport. Practices can take place up to several times a week, then there’s traveling involved and injury. It takes a special kind of person to be able to withstand the rigors of an NFL season and the emotional toll it brings, not to mention the media obligations. Sometimes players are left with invisible scars.
“You have a white hat for your home life. You have a red hat for work,” Walker would describe in an interview with ABILITY Magazine in 2008. “As an athlete, you’ve got a green hat for competition. But with DID, your hats get all mixed up.”
DID stands for Dissociative Identity Disorder and is a mental disorder characterized by two distinct enduring personalities that alternately control a person’s behavior and is accompanied by memory impairment for important information. This type of warrior mentality, which Carino described is somewhat comparable to what a man, or woman, in the military faces upon return from active duty. Each breed of warrior, or football player, is trained for countless hours to do one task to the very best of their ability. So whether you’re aiming down the barrel of a rifle, or you’re preparing to rush the quarterback; it’s in that warrior’s spirit to perfect their craft so much that it becomes second nature. Once that mentality is fostered, just like a leaky faucet, it’s hard to turn off.
This isn’t a problem that’s going away either; it’s only beginning to be dragged to the forefront of the NFL. In August 2013, the league reached a settlement with over 4,000 former players, in a suit that argued concussions played a role in their suffering with mental-related illnesses. Over the past couple of years, Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall has been spreading awareness on the topic of borderline personality disorder. BPD is characterized by emotional outbursts, impulsiveness and difficulty maintaining stable relationships. His track record of wacky behavior on the football field and off of it, which includes run-ins with teammates and domestic incidents with significant others, is documented in this ESPN article.
Marshall has bounced around the league, from being drafted by the Denver Broncos to trades that sent him to the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears, but that wouldn’t be the first case of a player’s personality affecting team chemistry. Back when Carino was a member of the New York Giants, he alleges that friend and linebacker Byron Hunt believed he was traded to Detroit late in his career because the team believed he was a “running mate” of Lawrence Taylor and “that was the talk of the town.” If you take a poor family dynamic and compound that with the stress of an NFL lifestyle, which tests your patience, loyalty and morals, it may become a much larger problem, as it did in Marshall’s case.
Stress can effect anyone. From someone in the public eye, to somebody on disability; stress cannot be outrun but only managed. So for a man like Rice, who struck his then fiancée Janay Palmer in a hotel elevator back in September, it had to have been the alcohol right? This in no way condones the behavior depicted on the hotel video, but it's simply to question the grounds in which the altercation stemmed from. Rice graduated from Rutgers and played the last six seasons in Baltimore after being drafted by the Ravens with the 55th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. He had no history of problems and no arrests coming out of college. Carino and Rice both share the bond of being Scarlett Knight alumnus and have met multiple times in New Rochelle—Rice’s hometown—and on the sidelines of Rutgers football games.
“When you hear that, you’re not totally surprised. He’s using his public face; his game face is on. I would always interfere with someone if I saw that happen but that punch would have me running the other way. I don’t know if that’s a first time thing,” Carino pondered, then added. “I did have conversations with Brian Leonard and a couple of other guys who have played with him and they all had good things to say about him.”
For the professional athlete, your responsibilities don’t stop, even after you leave the field. Everyone can put on a mask in the media, while some just tell it like it is. Rice happened to lose his cool at the wrong moment, so would he be in the midst of completing a seventh season had this incident taken place behind closed doors? That’s hard to say. What is certain is that the NFL has a big problem on their hands.
There’s no right way to solve this growing problem but players must be policed accordingly, and so far, we’ve yet to see that happen. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been left to pick up the pieces after a botched investigation of the Ray Rice case. Goodell had come under heavy scrutiny after TMZ released video of Rice punching Palmer in September, as people questioned his sincerity in that he lied about not seeing the video earlier. He also alleged that Rice was ambiguous during their discipline hearing in June. Several reports contradicted those claims.
It was a process that saw the NFL hire four women, with backgrounds in educating the public and investigating crimes in regards to domestic violence, to advise Goodell and staff on violations of law, disciplinary matters, as well as implementing a new domestic violence and sex assault workplace policy. It’s about time for the league, whose image became soiled as early as the ‘60s when Jim Brown had recently retired, to step up and acknowledge the gravity of the situation.
Rice, and cases involving Peterson, the Panthers’ Greg Hardy and the Cardinals’ Jonathan Dwyer, have illustrated a disturbing trend among NFL players. The rise in domestic incidents, this year alone, was no coincidence. Compared to the national average for men ages 25-29, arrest rates for some of the most heinous crimes are extremely high among NFL players, and none more so than domestic violence. According to data compiled by fivethirtyeight.com, 55.4 percent of players are arrested on charges of domestic violence, with a total of 83 arrests recorded. And while it accounts for just about half of violent crimes among NFL players, 21 percent of violent crime arrests nationally are of the domestic violence variety.
It’s both a saddening and disturbing realization that young boys have to become men at such early ages to help sustain a household. That hunger and necessity to support, who are more often than not, the player’s mother is exactly what may end up betraying them in the end. Those same players, who grew up being raised by a single mother, potentially assault women who then may carry their own seed. So what gives?
The NFL is continuing to better outreach as far as educating their players, and the public, on issues of domestic violence. Players are also given a lengthy walkthrough in July at the annual rookie symposium about what life is like in the NFL. The ending to a problem, however, is usually found where it all started...and that’s something that Roger Goodell, Brandon Marshall or Ray Rice cannot fix on their own.