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For years, the NFL has done nothing but grow, in terms of audience, revenue, popularity, cultural placement.  The Super Bowl is annually the most watched event of the year.  Even the off-season has become wildly popular, with free agency and the draft getting more coverage and attention than the regular season of some other sports.  It was a ride straight up and up.

I always wondered when the ride would end, and with all of the press coverage centered around domestic violence, you have to wonder if this is the thing that will finally bring some stop to the rocket ship rise of  the NFL.

It All Started With Ray Rice

The stories emerged during the off-season of Ray Rice being involved with a domestic violence charge against his then fiance.  I tend to tune out a lot of the off-season stuff with the exception of that surrounding my hometown Lions, so while I was aware of it, I didn't know the details.  That is, until the day a couple of weeks ago when the video was released.

I was listening to the radio on the way home from the gym when I'd first heard about it.  I work out early in the morning, and the video had just been released hours ago, so recently that other networks were not yet showing it, but just talking about it.

When it finally hit the main airwaves, all heck broke loose.  Anybody (like me) who hadn't been made aware of the specific details were soon enlightened, and boy was it ugly. Rice flat out knocked out his fiance.

The video unleashed an instant firestorm.  The NFL and the Ravens were chastised for the previously announced two game suspension.  They tried to correct this.  The team released him, and the NFL reversed course by suspending him indefinitely.  Both came under fire for not having saw the video when TMZ was able to get it.

It turned into one big mess

And Then It Got Worse

Ray Rice, as it turns out, was not the only player involved in a domestic violence issue.  His just got the most attention.  Soon after his firestorm hit, attention turned to other cases that had not gotten as much attention, but were now.  Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers admitted to an altercation and was going through the legal system, but was still playing.

Until the team decided to change that.

Then, other players involved in cases suddenly started getting attention.  Soon, it became apparent that the Ray Rice incident was not just one isolated event.

And Then It Got Worse Than That

During the whole thing, the Ravens had a Thursday night game.  Thursday night games are broadcast on CBS, and they had an intro featuring a song by Jay-Z and Riahnna.  The same Riahanna that is one of the most popular people on the planet, but who was also the victim of domestic violence a few years ago.  CBS decided to pull her song for the week that the Ravens played.  When Riahanna heard that they were going to resume using it the following week, she went on Twitter and told them in no uncertain terms that this was not acceptable.  CBS wisely decided to stop their plans on using her song.

So at this point, you've got suspended athletes, accusations of, at worst, cover-ups, at the least, incompetence, plus you've now angered one of the most popular people on the planet.  It couldn't get any worse right?

Wrong.  It Continues To Get Worse

To top it all off, Adrian Peterson, widely considered one of the best players in the entire NFL, is arrested and charged with child abuse for whipping his 4 year old son with a tree branch.

It breaks my heart to even write that sentence.  Look, everything else that's happened is bad, but as bad as it is, you didn't have children involved.  Old AP decided to change that.

What sick monster thinks that it's OK to hit a 4 year old child with a tree branch in the name of discipline?

Nobody in their right mind, right?

Wrong.

Insert Reggie Bush

I'm a Lions fan so I've been thrilled that they have Reggie Bush, but that all changed when he came out and actually defended Peterson.  (What the h-e-double hockey sticks is it with running backs being at the center of all this, anyways?)

In fact, he took it further.  He said that he has a 1 year old….THAT HE DISCIPLINES.

Disciplining a one year old?  What is he even talking about?  A one year old understands very little about the world.  They don't understand right from wrong.  They are just learning the world and their place in it.

Yet, this tool is going out there and disciplining a one year old child?  A one year old that has no idea about anything other than what the few people he or she trusts can show them.  Those people, including her father, should be showing them love.  And trust.  And strength.

Not discipline.

I will still root for the Lions but I will not cheer this fool.

My Words and Thoughts

These guys are grown men.  They're in a violent sport.  They are stronger than most.  Their job is to intimidate, to push past others, to knock down when necessary.

But they need to leave that on the field.

These guys have no business taking that with them.  The second that game clock stops, so too should their propensity to muscle their way through by any means necessary.

Until that happens, the NFL will suffer.  The image will suffer.

I don't think that the NFL will start sliding anytime soon. They will still be popular.  People will still watch. Sponsors will still pay obsence amounts to advertise during their games.  Sunday will still be football day.

But, the endless climb up the mountain?  I think that's on hold for awhile.  And here's the thing.  The fans want the NFL to do something.  But what can the NFL do?  It's up to the players to take ownership of their actions.  It's up to the players to be good men, and to not take up hands against their wives, fiances, girlfriends, and (I shouldn't have to say this) their children.

The NFL can't teach these guys to act like honorable men.  And, what's worse is that right now the honorable men (and there are many out there) are getting outshadowed.  Let's remember, for all the idiots like Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, and Reggie Bush, there are multiple players out there who treat the people in their lives with respect and who don't feel the need to use their hands as ‘discipline'.

Maybe we can take the time to re-think who we root for.  That we look at who we deem a hero.  Or a role model.  Or someone whose poster we hang on our kids wall.

In the NFL, and in all sports, the men and women who play the game matter.  Maybe this will make us more aware of who we are rooting for.  We can't just root for the players.  We have to root for the men and women that the players are.  We can't support players who lead their team to victory but then drag their fiance unconscious out of an elevator.

Rooting for players is fine.  It's always happened and it will continue to happen.  But, let's not root for the animals.  Let's root for the players that leave it on the field, that use the gift of their athletic ability to make the support exciting, but then use the grace that we are given as human beings to make positive choices once they leave their sport.  It all counts.  It all goes together.   We can't unravel it.

Let's stop pretending that we can.  Let's start rooting for the best men and women to play the sports we love.  Let's teach our kids that the best players to play the game may not automatically deserve our adoration, and explain why.  Use the current examples as teaching moments, and eventually, maybe we'll teach our children, and maybe even the players who deserves to be rooted for.