Art by Autumn Hardwick
With Super Bowl LVI on the horizon, the idolization of NFL superstars continues. Although many players show great success stories, many have serious allegations or charges against them for sexual or domestic violence.
Instead of rewarding these players with million-dollar contracts, the NFL and their fans should hold them accountable for their crimes off the field. It should not be, “believe the victim until the assaulter contributes to your team’s success.”
A severe problem with the NFL is that fans judge players based on their in-game performances, not by their off-the-field actions. If a player is talented enough, he can commit an atrocious act of physical violence, receive a few games of suspension and then return to his team and continue being “great.”
The upcoming Super Bowl matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals features two star-studded teams. Even in this show on the big stage, there are players on each team who fans should not support or be playing because of past allegations.
Rams tight end Tyler Higbee pleaded guilty to “assault under extreme emotional disturbance” in 2017 for an incident that occurred in 2016. Witness accounts reported Higbee allegedly yelled racial slurs while beating his victim, according to Bleacher Report. The judge ordered Higbee to pay the victim “an undisclosed amount” and assigned Higbee 250 hours of community service, according to ESPN. The Rams drafted Higbee with the 11th pick in the fourth round, just over one week after his assault took place, according to NFL.
Even in ESPN’s article, the second paragraph identifies the man who had just pleaded guilty to assaulting someone as “the former Western Kentucky standout.”
Rams linebacker Von Miller’s fiancée alleged that Miller, when he played for the Denver Broncos, wanted her to miscarry their child and said Miller verbally and physically assaulted her, according to the Washington Post. His fiancée later went back on her claims to stay out of the public eye. In the midst of this police investigation, Broncos General Manager George Paton told the media this is a serious situation, but “we do want Von back.” After these accusations, the Rams acquired Von Miller from the Broncos in exchange for two picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, according to the NFL. Following the trade, USA Today quoted Rams head coach Sean McVay, who called Miller an “incredibly unique football player.”
After reaching a deal with prosecutors, the judge charged then-Oklahoma Sooner Joe Mixon — now a Bengals running back — with a misdemeanor assault charge, according to the Washington Post. Sooners head coach Bob Stoops suspended Mixon for the 2014 season, but allowed Mixon back for his last season. The NFL barred Mixon from participating in the combine because of the charge. Still, the Bengals drafted Mixon with the 48th overall selection of the draft.
There is a noticeable correlation between the greatness of a player’s performance and the perceived severity of his crimes. Tyreek Hill, all-star wide receiver of the Kansas City Chiefs well on his way to the NFL Hall of Fame, has “pleaded guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation” while in college. Hill faced accusations of hurting his child — a leaked audio clip had Hill barred from team-related activities after he was drafted in 2019 — according to the NFL.
When Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe found Hill’s son was hurt but could not prove by whom, the NFL decided to not suspend Hill and allow him to return to team training that summer. Hill is a perfect example of fans and the League choosing to look the other way in the face of violence because he excels at his position.
The newly retired and beloved franchise quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, “Big” Ben Roethlisberger, was accused of rape by two women in 2009 and sexual assault in 2010, according to Sportscasting. Even though the teams settled one case out of court and the prosecutor dropped the charges on the other, Roethlisberger only missed a few games due to allegations in his 18 seasons at Pittsburgh.
Instead of mourning the trauma these two women went through, the Steelers fanbase celebrates his retirement and contribution to football without considering the harm he has done outside of Heinz Field.
Although the prevalence of assaulters is largely clear throughout the NFL, it is still possible for teams to take independent actions against them. Last season, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson participated his third consecutive Pro Bowl, according to Sports Illustrated. In the next offseason, The New York Times reported 22 women filed civil suits against Watson, including allegations such as sexual coercion, lewd behavior, and sexual assault. Unlike most teams in this situation, the Texans did not allow Watson to play a single snap on the field for the entirety of the 2021-2022 season.
Some teams — like the Rams, Steelers, Chiefs or Bengals — seem to prioritize winning rather than maintaining a sense of morality.
The NFL suspended then-New-England-Patriot quarterback Tom Brady — who recently retired as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer after 22 years in the league — for four games for allegedly playing a role in deflating game balls in 2015, according to ESPN.
In 2014, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Ray Rice for two games for domestic violence, according to NBC. Goodell promised a six-game suspension for domestic violence or sexual assault, then gave then-Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston — now a quarterback for the New Orleans Saints — a three-game suspension for sexual assault.
Slightly softer footballs should not be a larger punishment for players than assault.
Journalist Darren Urban quoted Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim in a tweet in which he said, “if Hannibal Lecter ran a 4.3, we’d probably diagnose it as an eating disorder.”
Keim demonstrated the toxic NFL mentality that even one of the most gruesome serial killers would be given a pass to play if he ran fast.
Do not hate players because they are good at the sport — hate them because they are destructive role models that show violence can be acceptable if they are good enough at a game.
There are many role models that have come out of the sport, such as Brady and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who do not have serious allegations against them but are generally hated by the general football audience because they are one of the best players ever or have an annoying brother.
We encourage fans to do research on their favorite teams and players before pledging blind allegiance to them. Just because most fans sweep these allegations and charges under the rug does not mean that all fans should.
It is time to clean up the NFL.
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