Sports department for the student run radio station 90.3 WRST at UW-Oshkosh
By: Alexander Crowe
Station Manager at WRST-FM Oshkosh
“Your dreams have indeed come true.” –Rich Eisen
Those were the first words ever said on NFL Network, which is celebrating it’s 10th birthday today. Fans finally got what they had been waiting for: a 24 hour network dedicated entirely to the NFL, so they could get their fill of football on every day of the week not called Sunday. Those words, spoken by Rich Eisen on the premiere of NFL Total Access, carried volume across the country.
Your dreams have indeed come true.
Dreams are something that every living being has, something that gets you up in the mornings and keeps you working hard throughout the day. Everyone has their own hopes and dreams, something that they want more than anything and are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. For some people, a dream can be as simple as passing an exam or seeing someone they love. For others, it can mean a certain job or career path. Whatever the dream is, everyone has one. Some people dream of being a journalist, others an astronaut or a teacher – and some dream of one day playing professional sports.
Everyone who has played sports as a child has had this dream. The dream of making it big-time, of getting to play in front of tens of thousands of people lives in the heart and soul of every kid playing pop-warner football on a Saturday afternoon. Many people will never realize this dream, it’s sad but it’s the truth. Most people who played football as a kid are now hard at work doing something else with their lives, chasing whatever dream it is they have now. But every now and again, a talented kid comes out of nowhere, and never gives up on those dreams.
It takes hard work and dedication to make it to the pros, everyone knows that. The level of commitment and love for the game has to far exceed any other dream a kid may have – but if they have it, they can make it happen. Every player in the NFL wouldn’t be where he is today without a work ethic that seems crazy to some people. It shows in players like Jerry Rice and Brian Urlacher, guys who loved the game and never disrespected it. Guys who gave their entire lives to the sport and are now commentators for TV networks because they just couldn’t stay away from it. It’s players like these that every kid playing sports dreams of one day becoming.
And yet, there are players in the NFL who seem to take everything for granted and have not a single clue as to what is going on around them. According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, 78% of former NFL players have gone completely bankrupt or are under “financial stress” within just two years of retirement. The egos and self-centered agendas players have in the NFL today baffle most people, who wonder how a kid with a dream of making it big can lose it all once they make their dreams come true.
It happens all too often. Take for example Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Blackmon was selected 5th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, and was the most talented receiver in the draft. The Fiesta Bowl MVP had a lot on his resume, including being named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2010 as well as named to the All-American team twice. He would be playing with Blaine Gabbert, a quarterback drafted 10th overall by the Jags in 2011, just one year before Blackmon was drafted. Everything seemed to be falling into place for Blackmon and the Jags, who seemed poised to have an explosive offense with the two top 10 picks running the show.
Things started off pretty great for Blackmon in Jacksonville. On November 18th, in a game against the Houston Texans, Blackmon had 236 receiving yards on seven catches. It was the third-most yards a rookie had ever caught for in the NFL. It appeared as if the Jags had solved their offensive woes, and Blackmon was on his was to becoming the next great NFL receiver.
Then, the issues started happening.
On June 3rd, 2012, Blackmon was arrested for driving under the influence in the county of Stillwater, Oklahoma. It was his second DUI, the first one coming back in 2010 that resulted in a one-game suspension from Oklahoma State University, where he played college football.
Then, on April 20th, 2013, the NFL announced it was suspending Blackmon for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s Policy and Program for Substance Abuse. After serving his suspension, Blackmon came back and put up big numbers for the Jags, giving the team’s fans hope that the offense would find it’s stride with Blackmon back.
After just three games back, the NFL announced it was again suspending Blackmon for violating the Policy and Program for Substance Abuse, but this time the punishment was much more severe. He is currently suspended indefinitely by the NFL, and is not eligible to apply for reinstatement until the beginning of the 2014 season.
Stories like this are becoming all too common in the NFL. Aldon Smith, a Pro-Bowl linebacker/defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers was suspended by his team earlier this season after receiving his second DUI in as many years, the latter one stemming from a single car accident in which marijuana was found in his vehicle. He was also charged with three felony counts of “illegal possession of an assault weapon” on October 9th, 2013.
From Plaxico Burress to Michael Vick, these kinds of stories are popping up more and more often around the NFL every year. Aaron Hernandez is currently awaiting trial after being charged with First Degree Murder, and his college teammate and current Miami Dolphin Mike Pouncey has been handed a subpoena for the same crime.
Most recently, Ricky Incognito of the Miami Dolphins has been suspended indefinitely, after news broke that he had been harassing players on his own team by making racially charged threats to another teammate and members of his family.
The dream of growing up to play professional football is one that starts at a young age, and for some people never quite goes away. So why is it that when some people reach that dream they subsequently throw it all away? That is a question that the league needs to find an answer to, and fast. The simple fact is that NFL players are getting into more and more trouble, and the situation has gotten out of control.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has taken steps to solve the problem, trying everything from fines to suspensions for bad behavior. The Players’ Union has taken steps too, announcing a partnership with an app called “Uber”, which lets players use their phone to get a ride home when they’ve had too much to drink. And yet, players continue to get into more and more trouble.
This is a situation that needs to be addressed now. Zero tolerance rules need to be put in place for players to realize that their days of acting like they run the world are over. Hopefully, the suspension Justin Blackmon received this week will send a message to everyone across the NFL: No matter what your name is, you can and will be punished if you break the rules. Actions have consequences, both good and bad.
For now, fans will continue to tune into NFL Network just like they have been for the last ten years. However, among all the changes that have come to the league since the network’s creation, one of the biggest is the content of the shows. Hopefully one day Rich Eisen will again be able to go an entire show without having to bring in a lawyer to discuss legal issues a player is having, or have a round-table discussion on the year-long suspension a player was just handed.
Until then, NFL agents may want to think about applying for law school and representing their clients in a setting other than salary and advertising contracts.