The National Football League is now only one day away and fans of every team are eagerly checking their team’s schedules to see how many wins their team is going to get and if they can make the playoffs. Cardinals’ fans are looking to see if Carson Palmer can lead the team to a one seed, while Browns and Titans fans are seeing if their team can even muster out enough wins to use two hands to count.
Fans all across the nation are giddier than a five year old on Christmas day as the NFL, for better or for worse, is finally back.
The NFL, at the start of the 2016 season, had its fair share of controversies and awful public relation press stories. The other day, former San Francisco tight end, Bruce Miller, was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon (not a firearm), elder abuse, two counts of criminal threats and battery. Also, circulating around the headlines is Tom Brady’s and Le’Veon Bell’s fair or unfair suspensions, Josh Brown’s domestic violence past and Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem.
No institution or sports league wants off-the-field issues to dominate the tabloids and headlines. The NFL, a multi-billion dollar league, wants the emphasis to be on the field and football. On the field this preseason, a slew of injuries have been the focus of news stories as Tony Romo and Teddy Bridgewater have both been sidelined for a majority and the entirety of the season, respectively. Injuries occur in every sport and every season, specifically for the NFL, as the league is getting quicker and the players competing are getting stronger and faster.
For all the growth and strides football has made in the past couple years, it seems that another story or controversy knocks it down another peg. While the NBA is moving in a positive direction publicity-wise, it seems football is stagnant in its trajectory.
Before, I mentioned football is back for better or for worse. The worse is obviously the off-the-field controversies and the injuries on the field, but let us dive into the better. Football is a sport that many of my generation have played and certainly have watched, as we have grown up idolizing all-time great players such as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Charles Woodson.
For every awful off-the-field incident (looking at you, Greg Hardy), there are miraculous stories that make people fall in love with football again. The best two recent examples that come to mind both occurred in college football over the weekend. The first is the story of the Pittsburgh Panthers running back, James Connor, who recovered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma three months ago. He was able to take the field this past weekend, run the ball 17 times for 53 yards, rush for a touchdown and catch a ball for a nine-yard touchdown. Connor, last year’s ACC player of the year, used football as motivation to get healthy and beat cancer.
The second example comes from the University of Nebraska, which recently underwent a great tragedy when their punter Sam Foltz died alongside Michigan State punter Mike Sadler in a car accident on their way back from kicking camp. The Nebraska Cornhuskers, on their first punt of the game, sent out 10 players and no punter, as a sign of remembrance for the fallen Foltz. It was a remarkable moment, not only for the memory of the young college student who died tragically, but for all of those in attendance who knew Foltz and for those who have lost a loved one in an accident. Football was used as a vehicle to mourn and remember someone who was lost too soon. As a fitting end to the story, Nebraska was flagged five yards for delay of game, but Fresno State declined the penalty in the ultimate move of respect.
The NFL has good stories, but they are overshadowed by the stories that are reported, such as the story of Johnny Manziel going back to A&M overshadowing the story of Peyton Barber, a former Auburn player, who dropped out of college to help his homeless mom despite being signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Football is a chance for people to connect, share a collective identity, stop worrying about life and participate in something that gives them joy. Yes, the NFL has its problems, but it also has numerous benefits that outweigh the bad, as it makes uncountable memories that people, like me, will never forget. This Sunday, sit down, watch your team play and enjoy football for what it is: something remarkable. As always, you cannot spell elite without Eli, go Giants!
Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering UConn volleyball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.