When one gate closes another one opens. Spygate, Bountygate, ElevatorKnockoutGate, and now the infamous Deflategate – all under the watchful eye of your majesty Roger Goodell. This league produces more drama on a yearly basis than any other sport on the planet -sometimes, it seems, by design. And although I never thought I’d see New England’s wonder boy caught up in a scandal (I’ll get to that in a minute), I never could have predicted that the media and New England haters alike would be so smitten over air pressure in a fucking football.
But long before Tom Brady’s face was plastered all over the Internet for all the wrong reasons - way, way before in fact - the first few suspensions dished out in NFL history came about from some pretty freaking unusual circumstances. In fact, the first also happens to be the most unusual (if we don’t count being suspended for shooting your own dumbass self in the leg in a public venue): in 1925, backup quarterback Art Folz of the Chicago Cardinals was found to have orchestrated the ‘hiring’ of, I shit you not, high school players to participate for the opposing team in an effort to pad one more tally in the win column leading up to the playoffs, and was subsequently banned (initially) for life.
More than two decades later in 1947, two New York Giants players were also suspended for life for throwing the season’s previous championship game because of bribes. And yet another two decades later, Hall of Famer Paul Hornung and Detroit Lion Alex Karras (he played Mongo, the chained up hobo in Blazing Saddles) were both separately suspended for betting on NFL games.
If there’s one thing for sure in today’s NFL, suspensions are in. Jump forward to the new millennium and holy mother of tater tot… there have been a massive 250 total handed down since the year 2000, almost tripling the total of all years previous. What’s more, there have been more dished out since 2012 than the previous 12 years combined. There has not yet been a single preseason snap this year and already 10 players will be serving time for the upcoming 2015 season. To contrast, the NBA had a whopping one suspension the entire 2014-2015 regular season.
So what the hell happened? A lot of things actually:
PED/DRUG POLICY & SUBSEQUENT TESTING
Beginning in 1989, the NFL began testing for and suspending players who tested positive for illegal substances. Testing has become a little more touch-and-go and the technology is better. However, unless you’re Josh Gordon, so are the masking agents to hide said substances – just ask Laron Landry’s bicep (just kidding Laron we’re cool right!?).
Clearly, not everyone uses them, but these guys were already big enough as it was. Team trainers have taken these athletes (who, for all intents and purposes, were already the cream of the crop of athleticism on the planet) and morphed them into otherworldly monsters. Part of me has always wondered what was going through 6’1, 200 pound Colt McCoy’s delicate little noggin the millisecond before this happened to him by a guy who can do this.
Some learn the hard way, but news travels faster in 2015 than it has since, well, news was news. And when shit goes down, you can bet your butt and a jar of pickles that people are going to find out about it – quickly. There's an omnipresent army of fans with a camera on their phone, ready to pounce the moment these celebrities make even the slightest misstep (Johnny & Jerry are the current regulars). This phenomenon has been compounded by Twitter, an extremely powerful tool – it gives certain players the power to be their ignorant, hostile, insensitive selves for the entire world to see, all from the comfort of their recliner.
I mean shit… you can get suspended for things you didn’t even do while you were in the league! The league has become a lot savvier to happenings off the field, putting out fires quickly and dousing gasoline on ones that turn into self-promoting wildfires. But one thing’s for sure: it’s getting pretty damn hard to be an idiot these days.
ON FIELD ISSUES
Gosh well shucks, I reckon the secret’s out: having your brain smashed against your skull 17 weeks a year turns out to have been not so good for your long-term health, although some NFL doctors are still posturing that there’s no cut and dry correlation just yet. It worked for the tobacco industry and it’s worked for the NFL – pretend the problem doesn’t exist for as long as you can get away with playing dumb.
Unfortunately for the NFL, time’s up – former players are firing out lawsuits in waves and, well, people are dying in the meantime. Helmet to helmet hits now come with some hefty added cost, and quarterbacks are becoming virtually untouchable. Even stomping on people for no reason is punishable (does Suh actually know instant replay was implemented or is he just that merciless?). Player safety is at the forefront of the league’s priorities, as it should be. They’re even working on shortening the season so that these worn down guys aren’t so susceptible to catastrophic injury so late into a grueling NFL season. Oh what’s that? They’re trying to lengthen it? Hmm that’s weird.
And yet… only a few out of the hundreds of NFL suspensions don't really fall into any of these categories. Coming full circle now, there’s something strikingly similar between the first suspension in the league’s history and the latest: players trying to play God. I’ve heard both sides of Deflategate: Brady knowingly orchestrated said deflation, but they lit the Colts up in the second half with regulation balls so who really cares anyway right?!
In my opinion, Brady deserves every single last second of that suspension and then some – pump HGH into your arms until they pop, beat up your friends and family at your own risk, smoke marijuana until the cows come home, but do NOT tell me that a player who thinks he’s above the game and manipulates the components of that game for his own self serving preferences does not deserve to be punished. Bullshit. There’s a reason pitchers can’t use tar and why batters can’t use corked bats. There’s a reason stock cars have rules around car weight and equipment, and why boxing gloves can’t be heavier than specified. There’s a reason goalie pads can’t be 5 feet wide and why you can’t put Flubber on a basketball (I’m assuming there’s a rule for that).
Drop the appeal, suck it up and take the damn suspension, Tom. You’re not above the game, and that you thought you might have been before an AFC championship game is absolutely terrifying. It’s an embarrassment to your character and a disservice to your fans to think anything otherwise.