From the Friday night lights of small towns across the U.S. to the NFL, football has never been more popular – or more besieged.
Sayreville, N.J. is just the latest community to be rocked and torn apart by allegations of sexual assault, this as part of a hazing ritual among the players on the Sayreville War Memorial High School team. With seven players under arrest, the season has been canceled.
“It’s a town that lives on Friday night lights. It was something for everyone to enjoy,” town Councilman David McGill told The New York Times. “We don’t want to see that big-league sports mentality start to trickle down to us….”
But that’s exactly what’s happening and the common pipeline is a skewed set of priorities driven more by cash than character. Even at the high school level, football is a big business, with local play determining scholarships and collegiate and possibly even professional careers. That’s the way Quinn Novak – the hero of “In This Place You Hold Me,” my second novel in “The Games Men Play” series – sees it. Playing on the high school team in Misalliance, Mo. is his ticket to the big time, a way to secure his future and insulate himself and his eccentric extended family from those who look down on them.
There’s nothing wrong with that. But the aggressiveness that can spur brilliant play on the field can also lead to brutality off it. Even Quinn – who is fiercely protective of others – can’t escape the sport’s legacy of violence, condemning himself to the sadomasochism he refuses to visit on others.
Still, there are those who want to keep the focus on the field, excluding what happens off it. Why should the whole team and town give up its longed-for season for a few bad apples, some in Sayreville ask? Why should the NFL – a multibillion-dollar enterprise not only for the 32 team owners but countless gamblers and fantasy-football players – risk an entire industry and its place at the center of American culture for a handful of spouse and child abusers? Let an outside committee or the judicial system handle it.
And yet, the league has no trouble imposing hefty fines on players for everything from wearing their pants too high to using inappropriate language to wearing headphones that are not sanctioned by the NFL (Colin Kaepernick, Colin Kaepernick and Colin Kaepernick). What’s next? A look at the San Francisco 49ers quarterback’s overdue library books or parking tickets?
The headphone thing is particularly hilarious as all it’s doing is driving business to Beats, the headphones many of the players prefer to those of the NFL-contracted Bose. Beats comes off as the cool James Dean, and Bose, the stiff high school principal.
Then add to this that the clever Kaepernick tweeted a pix of himself with his pink Beats, saying “I support breast cancer awareness! My grandma is a survivor!” and the league that has enough woman trouble post-Ray Rice now looks as if it’s hostile to grandmothers.
But hey, that’s what happens when your priorities are skewed. You’re willing to throw Grandma – Beats and all – under a bus.