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Jim Grassi: NFL doing OK, but crucial to demand mentors for young players

Jim Grassi Post Falls

The public furor over the NFL’s approach to handling domestic violence is reaching a fever pitch. Disgrace and scandals fill the headlines of our daily newspapers and social media. Reporters seem to revel in broadcasting the moral failures of prominent people, especially those connected with professional sports.

The popularity of professional football has brought a great deal of attention to various cultural issues; such as, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, sexual identity issues, suicide, and anger management. Should a professional football player and the executives associated with the game be expected to maintain a higher standard of conduct than the average worker?

I’ve had the privilege of speaking to a number of college and NFL teams about the importance of building and maintaining good character. Some NFL head coaches have asked me to help them with specific “bad boys of the NFL.” It has been an honor to be a consultant and chaplain to the sport for more than twenty years. I’ve seen some major improvement in behavior because of the new policies and mentoring that is now part of the NFL. Yet a few bad apples spoil the bunch when it comes to dealing with appropriate behavioral modifications.

How is the NFL doing compared to our society? According to a study conducted in 2010 about 8.6 percent of our population is convicted of felony crimes compared to about 2.8 percent arrests last year among the 1,700 players in the NFL.

I believe under Goodell’s leadership more fines have been levied, more penalties established, and more policing of the league has happened during any other period in this sport. Both on and off the field issues have been handled by this commissioner. While the jury is out on how he and his office handled the details associate with the Ray Rice domestic violence issue, I don’t believe one dropped pass by the commissioner or his associates should exclude him from performing his duties.

Every athlete, coach, and executive has a responsibility to watch their character on and off the field. Some athletes would say to me, “I didn’t choose to be a role model.” I would tell them by virtue of what you do and the privilege you have to play in the NFL you are a role model. The issue isn’t if you are a role model, but what kind of role model you will be.

I believe that part of the answer associated with behavioral issues can be found in our society. The problem with the NFL’s bad actors is seismic in nature. As goes the family so goes our nation.

Let’s look at the evidence. The SAT scores for our youth, discipline, and respect for country started to decline in 1963 when prayer and the Bible were taken out of public schools. The increase in violent video games, movies, and television programs has dramatically increased. The average teenager spends twenty percent of their waking hours in front of the television.

Tonight 41 percent of the nation’s children under 18 years of age will go to bed without a biological father in the home. Without a positive male role model in the home there is significantly higher incidents of teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse, violent behavior, sexual identity problems, and teen suicide.

Over 85 percent of the prisoners in our penal system were products of families without a father in the home. Ray Rice’s father was killed in a drive-by shooting when Ray was a one year old. Many of the players I’ve counseled never had the opportunity within their homes to experience a positive male role model.

Even though discussions about intervention programs and increased discipline continues, teams must find a way to balance the risks by helping players stay within accepted moral bounds. Most coaches are ranking character as being as significant as speed and athletic ability. I maintain we need to have coaches talk about the moral, ethical, and spiritual undergirding that rests on truth, that reinforces a life, and that helps a boy resist the temptation to compromise.

The next generation will not remember the ranking of a player as much as they will recall his attitudes and comments made in front of the camera or how he lived his personal and family life. As we follow various retired athletes, character is also the single most consistent quality for success in life.

Dr. Jim Grassi is an author of 13 books, three on character and football. His most recent book Guts, Grace, and Glory published by Thomas Nelson features a number of current NFL players and coaches with a foreword by Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner.
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