NFL: Why the End of the Ref Lockout Should Still Scare the Hell out of You

Sally YoungerContributor IIOctober 1, 2012

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Cornerback Sam Shields #37 of the Green Bay Packers is called for pass interference against wide receiver Sidney Rice #18 of the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on September 24, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Packers 14-12.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

It happened the instant M.D. Jennings’ cleats struck turf.

Before Packer Nation could howl, or Golden Tate shrug, or Aaron Rodgers blinker, or Commissioner Goodell shudder.

It happened the moment striped arms rose in error—Monday Night Football had succumbed to politics.

The beast stirred. The presidential candidates began prepping their spin.

And who’s surprised?

Big money and old names, crises of leadership, influence pedaling and constituents are as shackled to sports as to politics.

Pitchers and presidents have lied to congress. Health care is a shared flashpoint. Birther conspiracies and crotch-texting have their place. 

But while democracy may degenerate into a carnival—in an election year at least—sport clings to the mantle of merit.

On the field, competence is supposed to be manifest. Talent is supposed to be self-evident. Rules are supposed to be clean.

George Bush II inherited a legacy. Clay Matthews III proved his.  

Jim Thorpe broke the racial barrier, and he did it without Goldman Sachs.

So when posturing and greed in the NFL led to three weeks of incompetence—fouling fair play with millions to witness—it was a betrayal of ideals.

It was also a reminder that smoke filled rooms can look like skyboxes.

Watergate meet Tate-Gate.

But politics has a knack for intruding.

There was a shorn Tom Brady at the State of the Union in 2004. (Though records suggest the Patriots' star had never actually voted. Ever.)

And there was Jeff Suppan and Kurt Warner appearing in a pitch opposing stem cell research.

At the London Olympics, Michelle Obama was omnipresent, giving love to the Dream Team. Mitt Romney wasn’t short on support with the family’s mare, Rafalca, showboating in dressage and Kristi Yamaguchi dropping props on commercial breaks.

(The Yamaguchi ads skirted the U.S. Olympic Committee’s ban on politicized footage by showing stills of the 2002 games.)

Of course athletes have the right to endorse and vocalize. They don’t check the Constitution in the locker room. But fans should cling to the separation of Sport and State like their brewskies depend on it.

Imagine: After throwing the ceremonial first pitch of the World Series, the President bogarts the cameras to push his tax plan.

Jockey silks in red or blue.

Linebackers blocking the highway, the Fab Five hurling Molotovs at the G10, a Rose Bowl parade of donkeys and elephants.

It’s like something out the Twilight Zone. Or Machiavelli’s handbook.

So the unspoken code should be heeded. Sport should spurn the urge to take sides and push agendas. Self-respect just may depend on it.