The National Football League’s latest ruling, this time against Tom Brady, is another black eye to a once dominant professional league. Believe it or not, it’s not players and coaches seeking competitive advantages that is to blame, but masculinity.
Arguably the greatest quarterback to every play professional football now sits in career limbo. The sport and league that has given New England Quarterback Tom Brady so much is now standing with a rifle at the firing line with its sights set directly at #12.
Back in March, Brady was suspended four games for allegedly deflating footballs to gain a competitive advantage in this past season’s playoffs. On July 28, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the signal caller’s ban in a tersely worded, 20-page decision. The evidence, he said, supports his findings that Brady “participated in a scheme to tamper” with game balls used in January’s AFC Championship Game and “willfully obstructed” an NFL-backed investigation – in part by having his cell phone destroyed.
Since then, both sides have commenced a battle off the field, online and soon in federal court.
This, however, has nothing to do with deflated footballs. It has everything to do with masculinity.
Before last season began, the NFL found itself in a public relations nightmare. Then Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was seen violently striking his then fiancee, now wife. The video brought images to the already horrific story of what happened in Atlantic City that past February. The NFL caught the brunt of it for its decision to only suspend Rice for two games. They tried to clear their image as best they could; Goodell was interviewed by CBS. The commissoner’s closest ally amongst the 32 NFL owners, Robert Kraft also was interviewed defending Goodell. It didn’t help, the damage was done.
Even through all of it, Goodell never understood why people were mad at him. He didn’t understand why people were coming after him for Ray Rice’s act. He wondered aloud to people close to him why they were questioning his integrity and the relationships he had with owners, including Kraft. Goodell could feel his power slipping away, despite resounding commitment from the owners who employ him.
What does a man do when the walls start to close in around him?
Stereotypically, we are led to believe men fight out of that corner, but according to a recent study conducted at the University of Washington men don’t fight, they lie…about their masculinity.
The study found that male college students who were given falsely low results on a handgrip strength test exaggerated their height by three-quarters of an inch on average, reported having more romantic relationships, claimed to be more aggressive and athletic, and showed less interest in stereotypically feminine consumer products.
While Goodell might not be lying about his height, he has used deception masterfully to continue his reign atop the country’s most powerful professional league.
When concussions and the deadly effects of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy came to light and its relationship with the NFL, Goodell did his best slight of hand trick, getting unethical doctors to promote the league by saying outlandish things like, “riding a bicycle is more dangerous than playing tackle football.” Or after the NFL moved the kick-off up 5 yards to eliminate the threat of concussions, Goodell said it reduced concussions by 40% when the actual number was 1.4%.
With the Ray Rice situation, Goodell initially said the league did everything in its power to get the security tape that TMZ acquired and broadcasted the day after the first Sunday of last season. Yet, in the “independent” Mueller Report it states, “Our investigation identified a number of investigative steps that the League did not take to acquire additional information about what occurred inside the elevator.”
DeflateGate should have never earned the “-gate” monicker that so often follows a scandal in this country. Yet, Goodell had witnessed his manhood and livelihood challenged for almost a full calendar year at this point, and felt the need to stand up and do something about it. Had he taken the time to think logically and pragmatically, he may have decided to call Kraft and the Patriots, tell them about what league officials had heard and told them to knock it off.
Goodell though wanted to regain his position of power, and felt the need to cripple the team and owner who he had the strongest connection. He also saw a many number of owners and general managers around the league frothing at the mouth for a chance to take down the Patriots.
Back in January, Fox Sports Reporter Jay Glazer reported the alleged “sting operation.”
The Baltimore Ravens tipped off the Indianapolis Colts going into the AFC title game about the Patriots potentially doctoring the air in footballs. According to Glazer, the NFL was already planning to inspect the balls at halftime, despite D’Qwell Jackson’s interception originally being reported as the cause.
In an interview with TheMMQB.com’s Peter King, Goodell was at it again.
“The MMQB: Can you say that the first time that you heard about this was after the game?
The MMQB: You know that there’s a storyline out there that you knew about the deflating and wanted to catch them in the act.
Goodell: Let’s just short circuit this a little bit. I’m not going to get into what we knew and when we knew it because that’s part of what he’s investigating. … I can tell you that I was not personally aware of it until after the game.”
League officials have also leaked misinformation throughout DeflateGate, including the erroneous report that 11 of 12 New England Footballs were deflated by as much as 2 pounds PSI the legal limit.
Which brings us to the latest. In Goodell’s statement regarding upholding Brady’s suspension he mentioned the destruction of the quarterback’s phone. This is his smoking gun of Brady guilt. It is not the inaccuracies of the Wells report. Nor is it that several Colts footballs were also found to be under inflated. He doesn’t mention American Enterprise Institute’s independent study suggesting “The Wells report conclusions are likely incorrect, and a simple misunderstanding appears to have led the NFL to these incorrect conclusions.”
From Brady suit: “The purportedly independent Wells Report was edited by Pash, the NFL’s General Counsel, before its public release.”
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) July 29, 2015
Goodell sees this opportunity to stand above the other men. A chance to regain his masculinity in front of fans who have been envious of the success of the Patriots for the last 15 years. This is nothing more than Goodell entering a “dick swinging contest” where no one else knew they were competing.
Over the last 50 years, the structural construct of femininity has evolved with the times. From homemakers, to CEOs, the idea of what women should look like and do have become less and less defined as we move forward in the 21st century. With men and masculinity, not much has changed. We still expect men to be manly and void of emotion. We still expect men to rub some dirt on it and “man up.” The truth is, men’s share of the labor force has declined from 70 percent in 1945 to less than 50% today. In our country’s biggest cities, women earn 8% more than their male peers. Women have matched or overtaken men as a percentage of students in college and graduate school, while men have retained their lead in alcoholism, suicide, homelessness, violence and criminality.
The NFL and its Shield has long been a symbol for traditional masculinity. Players have been linked to gladiators and the stadiums they play as battlefields. Yet, the players themselves are evolving. During his playing days former Baltimore Ravens Linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo spoke openly of his support for gay marriage. Former Minnesota Vikings Punter Chris Kluwe backed him and the right to marry. Last season Cleveland Browns Wide Receiver Andrew Hawkins was one of the lead voices against excessive police violence during the #BlackLivesMatter protests. They represent a new, critical thinking athlete. Not the dimwitted, meatheads we think of when we perceive a football player.
It becomes clearer and clearer why the players and the NFLPA continue to distrust the league and its officials. As early as 5 years ago, players were commenting on the power Goodell possessed. It seems as the rest of the world evolves, the shield and the cronies who protect it do it with a 50s ideal that doesn’t exist today. How else can you explain Goodell’s continued pursuit of integrity within the league despite growing hypocrisy at the highest level? How else can you explain Goodell’s inability to comprehend the harms of domestic violence and its affect against women, men and children? How else can you explain Goodell turning a campfire into a brushfire as he has with Deflategate?
If men and masculinity look to survive they must evolve. Many of us have. More and more men are staying home and taking care of their families. More and more men are taking jobs and careers in traditionally female dominated positions.
There has been a decline in participation in youth football for the last three years and one can draw a connection between its decline and the out-of-date ideals of masculinity that encompass the game.
Dr. David Gilmore’s book Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity conducted a 20-year cross-cultural analysis of how masculinity is perceived and lived around the world.
What he discovered was that conceptions of what constitutes a “real man” have been common and consistent through time and around the world. A distinct code of manhood has not only been part of nearly every society on earth — regardless of era, political, social or economic life — these codes invariably contain the same three imperatives; a male who aspires to be a man must protect, procreate, and provide.
Goodell has done all he can to protect the Shield, to provide continued huge pay days for its owners. The league continues to make more and more money each year, despite a growing negative public image. What Goodell hasn’t yet realized is that much like traditional ideals of masculinity, this gladiator sport for real men is dying, and he’s leading the charge.
Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun/AP