Everything I know about the world I learned from the NFL

That’s not exactly true but the NFL is a very nice sandbox to illustrate a bunch of social (including economic) issues. Playing in the NFL is a rather risky job – most players are subjected to harsh physical contact, and a playing career rarely lasts beyond age 40 (and in many cases not even that long). Aftereffects of the beatings one takes range from chronic pain to all kinds of brain damage that leads to earl-onset dementia, depression etc.

To recompense for such a working environment, players are paid sums that at first glance seem large: several hundred thousand per season for non-stars, up to tens of millions for stars. What’s overlooked by many is that the NFL is a trust, that alternatives to this trust pay far less, that employers have recently fought the union successfully for what amounted to a pay decrease, and that contracts are typically not fully guaranteed. As a result of this, an NFL player is least likely to get paid if he most needs it.

Given these conditions, I fully understand big-name player player who stops playing early: having made a couple of tens of millions of dollars, if one isn’t living too large, one is set for life. Especially if one has interests beyond playing sports, this becomes even more attractive, as Rashard Mendenhall describes:

Over my career, because of my interests in dance, art and literature, my very calm demeanor, and my apparent lack of interest in sporting events on my Twitter page, people in the sporting world have sometimes questioned whether or not I love the game of football.
[…]
The box deemed for professional athletes is a very small box. My wings spread a lot further than the acceptable athletic stereotypes and conformity was never a strong point of mine.
[…]
So when they ask me why I want to leave the NFL at the age of 26, I tell them that I’ve greatly enjoyed my time, but I no longer wish to put my body at risk for the sake of entertainment. I think about the rest of my life and I want to live it with much quality. And physically, I am grateful that I can walk away feeling as good as I did when I stepped into it.

It’s all there: the money made, things achieved, other interests, realization that still being healthy is worth a lot. But as he also described, many didn’t seem to get it:

“Why would you stop now? You’re only 26 years old! You’re just going to walk away from millions of dollars? Is your knee fully healed? You had a pretty good year last year,” etc. After the initial shock response and realization that I’m not kidding, the question that would continue to arise is: Why?

“Why do you want to stop playing football at 26?”

It doesn’t matter that he already has lots of money, it doesn’t matter that he might wanna develop in a different direction. People don’t seem to understand that one would decline an opportunity to make even more money. And this attitude holds in other settings as well: people will not understand that a promotion, that earning more but doing less of what one wants to do, might not be attractive (ask researchers and doctors about this dynamic). People will not understand that the behavior of a multi-millionaire or even -billionaire who keeps adding to their personal wealth is not only nothing to admire to, but is actually a bit pathological. The NFL, with its extreme risk-reward setup, is just a very nice example.

Another phenomenon is illustrated by reports that former NFL player Darren Sharper is accused of multiple rapes:

Overall, Sharper has been accused of raping nine women and drugging 11 in five states.

So far, those are alleged rapes, and Sharper should be considered innocent until proven otherwise.

I’ll assume that prosecution would not have moved against him if they didn’t have a reasonably strong case and what strikes me about this is how neatly it illustrates that patriarchal narratives about rape are complete bull shit: I am not good at judging men’s appearances but Sharper does not seem to be ugly. He’s somewhat famous, and in addition to this social currency, has probably made quite a bit of money over his NFL career, given his number of Pro-Bowl selections etc. If the man wanted consensual sex, he would have found attractive partners! Not necessarily partners that would have done it out of genuine affection but he would have found some. So there’s no way that he raped because he couldn’t get laid! And if he was unhappy that he couldn’t find a partner who loved him, then rape is clearly not the solution.

Rape is not about sexual desire, it’s about control and dominance!

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