With a few exceptions, like The Nation’s Dave Zirin, and Travis Waldron of Think Progress, American sports reporters are a lazy bunch of jokers devoid of any journalistic instincts who make the entertainment reporter who confused Samuel L. Jackson with Laurence Fishburne look like Edward R. Murrow. Out of all the atrocities in the NFL that could be reported on, the sports media has gotten themselves worked up into a frenzy over a non-story. The deflated balls in question were all replaced after halftime, and the New England Patriots still outscored the Indianapolis Colts 28-0 in the second half in what was the second-most lopsided AFC championship game of all time.
And since the NFL in its official investigation still hasn’t talked to Patriots QB Tom Brady, who handled more of the deflated balls than anyone else, it’s probably a safe bet to say this “investigation” is just the league grasping for straws to keep Americans hyped up for the Super Bowl during two weeks of dead time. If sports reporters are looking for good NFL stories to cover, here are a few leads they can chase instead.
1. The NFL’s Domestic Violence Epidemic
Approximately a dozen NFL players – including Tony McDaniel and Kevin Williams of the Seattle Seahawks – are still active members of their respective teams despite having been arrested for domestic violence. In the case of McDaniel and Williams, who played for Miami and Minnesota respectively at the time of their arrests, the men pleaded their charges down to disorderly conduct (the same charge I got when I was arrested at nonviolent protests) and were given probation. Even though McDaniel shoved his girlfriend so hard her head hit the pavement, he was only suspended for one game.
Perhaps sports reporters can spend their time delving into how the league “glossed over” domestic violence charges filed against players for at least 30 years, as former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo has plainly said. Angelo estimated that the NFL brushed “hundreds and hundreds” of domestic violence cases under the rug during his time in the league. While Ray Rice was the poster child of domestic violence this past year, he’s just one of many players who have harmed wives and girlfriends and gotten off with a light sentence. One larger question the sports media should ask is how the NFL plans to crack down on domestic violence and make it a serious issue if the league continues to let players play whose charges have yet to be dropped.
2. The NFL Exploits Breast Cancer
Every year, the NFL breaks out the pink shoes and pink gloves to raise awareness about breast cancer, and sell pink NFL memorabilia to allegedly raise money for the cause. However, only 8 percent of these proceeds actually go to breast cancer research. Here’s how that breaks down:
For every $100 of pink NFL merchandise sold, $50 goes back to the retailer and $37.50 goes back to the manufacturer. Of the remaining $12.50, the NFL takes $1.25 and donates the rest to the American Cancer Society – which is more of a top-heavy bureaucracy than an effective funder of cancer research, as its CEO, John Seffrin, got $832,000 in compensation for 2014. Out of the $11.25 that the NFL donates to the American Cancer Society, only $8.01 goes to cancer research. Why are there no sports reporters asking the NFL why there isn’t a more effective cancer research nonprofit that could get a portion of proceeds raised from pink merchandise?
3. The NFL Makes $10 Billion Per Year, Yet Pays $0 in Taxes
When it comes to overpaid nonprofit executives, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell takes the cake. His 2012 salary of $44 million is 44 times bigger than the salary of United Way CEO Brian Gallagher, who was the 11th highest-paid American nonprofit executive in 2014. Even though the NFL isn’t a charity that takes donations, it gets away with classifying itself a nonprofit 501(c)(6) “trade association,” financed by 32 privately-owned, for-profit member teams (the lone exception is the Green Bay Packers, which is a publicly-owned nonprofit with over 300,000 shareholders).
And while the NFL operates solely for the profit of its member teams – which collectively bring in $10 billion a year – got over $300 million in member dues last year, and pays its top executive a ludicrous salary, it gets the same exemption as churches and social justice organizations actually trying to do good in their communities. But the NFL isn’t the lone offender – while Major League Baseball gave up their tax-exempt status in 2007, and the National Basketball Association has never tried to classify itself as tax-exempt, many pro sports organizations are still nonprofits, like the National Hockey League, the Professional Golf Association, and the Association of Tennis Professionals. Even disgraced GOP senator Tom Coburn got it right when he said pro sports leagues operating for profit ought not to be exempt from paying taxes. Imagine if the sports media spent half as much time reporting on this scandal as they did on “Deflategate.”
4. NFL Stadiums Are Financed With Billions in Taxpayer Money
When Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who is worth $4.2 billion, wanted to build a $1.2 billion stadium in Arlington, Texas, he asked taxpayers to front $325 million. In his book, “King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America,” author Gregg Easterbrook argues that while a flashy new stadium may provide additional economic benefits to the city for a grand total of maybe two weeks out of an entire year, it has nowhere near the economic benefit of investing $325 million in new schools, roads, and bridges. He also points out that 70 percent of the roughly $1 billion in costs incurred through building and operating NFL stadiums year-round is paid for by local taxpayers, rather than the billionaire owners of teams.
Here’s a story for the sports media: Why are average Americans, who are 40 percent poorer today than they were before the Great Recession, paying more taxes so billionaires who aren’t offering any tangible benefit to the general public don’t have to?
5. NFL Cheerleaders Are Paid as Little as $3 an Hour
Here’s a quiz for sports reporters: Who gets paid more? Minimum wage workers in Slovakia, or NFL cheerleaders? The Slovakian minimum wage is $3.50 an hour (2.02 euros). Yet despite Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown’s net worth of $924 million, Bengals cheerleader Alexa Brenneman was paid just $2.85 an hour for 300 hours of work she put in over the course of half a year. Slovakian minimum wage workers made 65 cents an hour more than Brenneman last year.
After Lacy T., a former Oakland Raiders cheerleader, sued her former employer for paying her $5 less than the state’s minimum wage, Bengals cheerleaders joined her lawsuit. Lacy T. argued that even though the team she worked for was more than capable of paying her a fair wage, she was mandated to fund her own travel for games and required to buy her own cosmetics, which must be applied to a strict standard or she and her teammates face league fines. Sports reporters should do a story on why NFL cheerleaders are denigrated as “seasonal amusement” by the US Department of Labor and owners are legally allowed to pay them less than the minimum wage, despite the revenues they help generate for their teams. And speaking of the NFL’s degradation of women …
6. There Are No Female Players, Coaches, Referees, or Desk Commentators in the NFL
During postseason games in the middle of winter, it becomes even more offensive to watch NFL sideline reporters like Michelle Tafoya and Erin Andrews be forced to bundle up in layers of warm clothing and spend hours on their feet, exposed to the elements, while their male colleagues get to sit behind a desk in heated rooms for all-male halftime panel discussions. What’s even more offensive is that when it comes to the action of the game, there are only men on the field.
Women are more than capable of playing alongside men in the league – the league just has yet to give them a chance. In 2010, Julie Harshbarger became the first woman to score a field goal in a predominantly male-dominated league, playing for the Chicago Cardinals, a team in the Continental Indoor Football League (CIFL). By 2014, she was the CIFL’s special teams player of the year. And in 2014, the Texas Revolution, a team in the Indoor Football League, signed Jennifer Welter as a running back in their regular season roster, making Welter the first woman in a non-kicking position for any American football team.
As for coaching, there are two notable women who have defied the norm and moved into head coaching positions at the high school level – Knengi Martin, who coaches the San Diego High School varsity team, which makes her the only female high school football coach in California, and Natalie Randolph, who was the coach of the Coolidge High School football team in Washington, DC, from 2010 to 2013. During Randolph’s 2011 season, she coached the team to an impressive 7-2 record, earning the team a spot in the league playoffs.
Sports reporters of today have the tremendous opportunity of seeking out top female players and coaching talent and bringing their stories to light, challenging the patriarchy of a league that doesn’t seem to want to give them an opportunity.
7. The League’s Negligence of Long-Term Brain Damage to Players
If America’s football reporters are anxious to do stories about the New England Patriots in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, they could shine a light on the death of Junior Seau and the NFL’s uncomfortable acknowledgement of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) resulting from repeated concussions. The NFL’s problem in underplaying the brain damage players undergo during their careers is just as serious as the league’s problem in sweeping domestic violence under the rug.
After NFL defensive legend Junior Seau shot himself in the chest in 2012, he left a note with the lyrics of a country song describing a man who dislikes what he has become. His family donated his brain to the National Institutes of Health, after a sustained campaign by the NFL to publicly disparage the names of doctors studying the connections between playing professional football and CTE. The NIH found that Seau indeed suffered from CTE, whose symptoms that include severe depression. In the documentary “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis,” writers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru documented one doctor who examined the brains of 46 NFL players and found that 45 of those brains showed signs of CTE.
In 2009, doctors studying the links between CTE and playing professional football presented their findings at a press conference at Super Bowl 43, just before the game, but hardly any media bothered to show up. Will the current crop of sports reporters show more interest in covering this story after Super Bowl 49?
8. The NFL Has Zero Openly Gay Players
When the University of Missouri completed its 2013 season, Michael Sam, a star defensive player for Mizzou who was picked as the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, came out as gay. Sam made headlines when he kissed his boyfriend upon hearing the announcement of his selection by the Saint Louis Rams in the NFL draft. In four pre-season games, Michael Sam recorded 11 tackles and 3 sacks, and had the most tackles out of all his other teammates in the final game of the pre-season. However, Sam was still cut from the team and traded to the Dallas Cowboys, who cut him as well.
Sam’s struggle to be seen as an equal by the league is reminiscent of former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who has talked openly about how the league made multiple attempts to silence his statements in support of LGBT acceptance. In the book “Out of Their League,” former NFL linebacker Dave Meggyesy wrote about the difficulties of having a voice as an NFL player when it came to social justice issues. The NFL isn’t likely to deviate from the status quo of shunning gay athletes and silencing players who advocate acceptance of LGBT players unless sports journalists do their jobs and ask those tough questions.
Professional football has become America’s new official pastime. But if the sport is to have any dignity, it’s up to the journalists who cover the sport to shed light on the real NFL scandals, rather than harping on non-stories like “Deflategate.”