The probable site of a probable taxpayer money pit.
The probable site of a probable taxpayer money pit.

NFL Now, NFL Tomorrow, NFL Forever…

by / Jan. 20, 2015 12pm EST

“Okay, so, where do you think the new Bills stadium should go?”

The hiring of Rex Ryan as the Bills head coach is old news already. What everyone was talking about as I went about my business on the holiday-in-name-only known as MLK Day seemed to be the new stadium. Where should it go? 

One popular candidate seems to be the vicinity of the Perry Housing projects. That site would accomplish two goals. It would eradicate a largely African-American urban community and it would be close enough to the area now known as Pegulaville to give new meaning to the slogan “One Buffalo.”

That’s hot! Two sports franchises—one owner/emperor. 

Like the story of the three bears, though, there are other options. They could build the stadium in Orchard Park. So, status quo. This idea seems to be getting the cold shoulder.

There does seem to be a third option that’s just right, however. It’s even closer to Pegulaville and it would raise the real estate value for the Buffalo News mausoleum at Washington and Scott Streets. “Welcome to Pegula Canalside stadium for the 2020 Buffalo Bills season-opener against the Los Angeles Raiders!”

Can’t you just hear John Murphy or his lower-paid replacement uttering a phrase like that to the joy and exhilaration of Bills fans?

All doubt and critical analysis are being swept away. To borrow from the late great segregationist George Wallace: It’s Bills now, Bills tomorrow, and Bills forever.

The Pegulas and the Buffalo News have mobilized great public support for a new, publicly subsidized television set for the NFL Networks reality series known as the Buffalo Bills. But consider this: We may be reaching a cultural crossroads with the sport of American football that will bring about a cultural shift as unimaginable as desegregation was to Wallace’s constituency at that time.

Like any cultural shift, the end of American football might be so gradual as to be imperceptible. Admittedly, to consider such a notion is counter-intuitive, if not downright crazy. The sport’s popularity, if anything, seems to be going through the roof.

Before one red cent of taxpayer money is spent, though, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should be made to address the following laundry list of problems. 

Reasons American football is in trouble:

  • Injuries in the sport at the high school level are causing insurance premiums to skyrocket making the sport financially unsustainable to all but the most rabidly football-crazed school districts.
  • The NCAA has determined that its billion-dollar profits will largely go to administrators and media conglomerates. The “student-teeters” risking their bodies are little more than modern- day indentured servants. The crowning of Ohio State as national champions so soon after that program was singled out for numerous violations suggests that the NCAA has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding recruiting violations and selective compensation to student teeters.
  • The NFL’s attempt to squelch and then cover up medical reports on the seriousness of concussions in the sport prove what we’ve known all along—American football is a gladiator sport that carries severe health risks for the athletes playing it. What we didn’t know is how devastating these repeated blows are to the human brain. Remember the old Negro College Fund slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”? A bit ironic that the majority of NFL players are black, isn’t it?
  • High-profile behavioral problems of the players themselves. Again, the standard operating procedure seems to be cover-up. The Ray Rice cover-up happened because League officials underestimated the ubiquity and persistence of data on the internet. Whereas ESPN might be relied on to downplay or ignore surveillance camera evidence, TMZ struck gold. Why so many behavioral problems in the first place? It’s a violent sport and players carry that violence home? The players are uneducated? Weren’t they all student athletes? They’re mostly from poor socioeconomic backgrounds? Head injuries are known to often cause these problems and the injuries are deliberately ignored? As long as Joe Schmo attributes these behaviors to race, aren’t the NCAA and NFL inadvertently perpetuating racial stereotypes? These athletes are being marketed to children as role models. Lots of tough questions with no easy answers.
  • Cheat-if-you-can’t-win ethics. When gambling and sports intersect there’s always a possibility that what we’re watching is a sports entertainment product as opposed to a fair and open competition. Legendary Coach Don Shula knew the importance of the NFL rules committee. He lobbied hard to make sure rules put in place favored his team. Bad and seemingly arbitrary calls on the field, however, seem to be getting more commonplace. The Cowboys-Lions game was just the latest case in point. Bill Belichek seems to be Don Shula on steroids when it comes to having a field slanted in his favor, but steroids in pro sports is another topic altogether.

Amusingly enough, the violent macho gladiator sport American football relies on the support of mothers. Does the “Hi, mom,” athletic camera shot ever get old? Unless there are some drastic changes, more and more mothers are likely to pull their kids out of concussion sports, whenever possible, now that the pervasive seriousness of head injuries is more commonly understood. More often than not it’s the mothers of athletes who are the financiers, chauffeurs, coaches, and nurses of wannabe hall-of-famers. There are plenty of other character-building, competitive sports available that are less hazardous. 

In all seriousness, I’m in no way suggesting that the injustice of segregation can be compared to American Football. Perhaps a better analogy would be smoking. If you walked into a gin mill in Buffalo in the 1990s and announced that smoking would be banned in every bar and restaurant within 10 years, the barkeep would probably have asked you what you were smoking. Changes just over the horizon are often impossible to see. It doesn’t mean they aren’t coming.

One of the favorite highlight reels for a Bills fan is undoubtedly the comeback over the Houston Oilers. One image that has since been erased by NFL films is the lone Bills fan rising from his seat clapping his hands with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. In the background (at least as I remember it) is the giant Marlboro billboard. The iconic sequence of the Bills comeback Marlboro man magically rising to summon his team to respond to the call of destiny has been erased from history. Is it crazy to think that some day the very sport itself could follow him into oblivion?