CALLING ALL PRO FOOTBALL FANATICS. IT’S UP TO US.

“I believe there is an incredible silent majority out there that love this game, that think it’s valuable. If you ever tried to take it away from them, they would stand up for it,” NFL Hall of Fame Executive Director, David Baker, as quoted in Greg Bishop’s “Football in America,” Sports Illustrated, Nov. 16, 2016

Another week, another set of story lines in pro football’s soap opera. For at least the third time this season, dead-ball fights and sideline assaults have led to ejections and suspensions. In my fifty years as a fan, I’ve never seen such a trend of players going rogue against one another after the whistle.

More evidence of fractures in football’s world comes from news that the Players Coalition has splintered just as NFL management makes an offer for a “social justice” fund in response to players’ anthem protest. Meanwhile, Commissioner Roger Goodell gets a new contract worth almost twice the highest-paid player, and this comes after a near civil war among NFL owners over Goodell’s value.

Who’s running this show?

And then there’s last Monday’s game between the Bengals and the Steelers. Two players carted off on stretchers, one with a severe spinal cord injury. It’s a wonder a third player wasn’t knocked out. Pittsburg QB Ben Roethlisberger chalked it up to simply “AFC North football.” But fans and media declared it one of the most brutal games ever played.

A curious thing happened amid the outcry though. Push-back emerged. I’ve been wanting to see some fiery spirit in support for the game. It may not be fashionable or politically correct, but this football fanatic is not ready to see pro football fold its tent.

I understand that many Americans just aren’t fans of football. To them, my passion makes no sense. Then there are the fans who are ready to walk away due to political or safety issues. To them, my passion is naïve, stubborn and poorly invested. But count me among those willing to argue for the game. Not for the owners or Goodell. Not for off-field fights and half-measures in service of safety. Not for the gestures of anthem protests or hush money in response. And not for players who are more invested in building their brand than they are in the fundamental purpose of football.

Pro football has lost its moorings. The participants in this show have forgotten that the game’s popularity springs directly from its status as the greatest team sport ever invented. Pro football’s fans must be the adults in the room now. Not the casual fan. Not the apathetic fan. Not the fan for whom it’s easy to walk away. No, it will have to be those of us fanatics who are willing to argue for the game’s most valuable example: teamwork.

Who’s up for the challenge?

Michael McCormack/Born Fanatic

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