Ray Rice and the Toxic Culture of the NFL, as Detailed in Steve Almond’s ‘Against Football’


In Steve Almond’s Against Football, a book filled with “obnoxious opinions” by the writer’s own admittance — and they’re not that bad — Almond makes a case for the fact that football, and the NFL specifically, is at the root of a toxic, pernicious, deadly and deadening culture in America.

The book came out on August 26th, and it’s taken a mere two weeks for Almond to be proven right on a national scale, in the ugliest of fashions. When video leaked on TMZ of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancee, now-wife Janay Rice with a punch to the face, it highlighted the fact that, initially, the NFL gave Rice a mere “two-game suspension” for a disgusting case of violence against a woman. After TMZ’s video was leaked and a public outcry emerged, the NFL covered its ass. Rice’s contract with the Ravens was terminated and he’s been suspended indefinitely.

However, it’s not as if Rice is an isolated incident of the NFL guarding and protecting its assets in the light of the violent and dangerous culture that the sport perpetuates. Over on Jezebel, Erin Gloria Ryan has a long list of the various crimes that various football players have participated in, and it’s disheartening, to say the least: players keep playing even though they’ve threatened to kill their girlfriends, and that’s a small issue, comparatively.

I can remember someone mentioning, “Oh, there’s a murderer on the New England Patriots,” and, well, there was — Aaron Hernandez is currently being held without bail on three murder charges. The Rolling Stone reporter who profiled his case, Paul Solotaroff, has been quoted as saying: “I think [the case] is not only beatable, [but] I think he will be back in the NFL within three or four years. I think they’ve grossly overcharged him based on the case they’re building — no direct eye witness, no murder weapon [and] no plausible motive.”

Football is a violent sport, and violence is begetting violence in the “real lives” of the men who play football professionally. The NFL has financial stakes in these men, and they make no bones about the fact that even if they’re criminals, it won’t affect the sports teams. It’s morally and ethically corrupt. As of late, football has reached a tipping point where it’s not a sport that’s worth following or spending time being a “fan” of if you are a human person that cares about things like women, not getting concussions, or something like the predatory preaching that someone’s “way out” of tough financial circumstances is to learn how to play football and that’s their only option.

Against Football makes a smart stab at what the roots of the problem are — and it starts with the fact that the NFL is a “nonprofit” monolith that eats up cities, taxes, fans, players, and TV time all in one greedy gulp. If the NFL, as a corporation, was a real life person, it would be on the level of a Rupert Murdoch, a king with a fiefdom. We need to start talking about the NFL and the violence that it perpetuates with the vehemence that we use for the heads of evil empires. Perhaps this Ray Rice case is a start — but frankly, it just seems symptomatic, and something else dire and violent will likely happen soon.