NFL players need to do what’s best for themselves, and sometimes that means disappointing fans

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The average American loves watching football, but it is no secret the league is shady and volatile from top to bottom. Commissioner Roger Goodell is a clown, Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is an accused rapist, and Washington R-words’ (I refuse to acknowledge the franchise’s blatant disrespect for indigenous people — but also go Birds) running back Adrian Peterson abuses his children. One would think that in a league where these — and many, many more — men are continuously allowed to play, fans would not support them, and players and the NFL would be rightfully called out. Instead of speaking out against players with violent pasts, fans choose to hate on players who are simply attempting to make a living for themselves and their families.

Before the start of last season, the Steelers faced a serious dilemma — their Pro Bowl running back Le’veon Bell refused to play, demanding a new contract and a raise. Bell was crucified by Steelers fans for months and eventually parted ways with the franchise by signing with the New York Jets in free agency. Even though the Jets aren’t looking like much of a contender so far, Bell got the money he was after. That doesn’t make him a greedy athlete who only cares about money. Instead, it simply makes him a realist and a smart businessman.

It is no secret the NFL is a dangerous league to play in. A 2017 study found Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in 110 out of the 111 NFL players’ brains donated for the study. In addition to the serious brain trauma football players face every day, like any other sport, there are also a myriad of injuries a football player can suffer. Joe Theismann’s injury (this link may be graphic for some viewers) immediately springs to mind when thinking of career-ending plays. According to a Wall Street Journal graphic, offensive linemen have the longest careers on average: a whole three years and eight months. Three years and change to make as much money as possible before either their body gives out or their brain does. Even worse still, many professional athletes don’t find much of a career after retirement.

Players like Los Angeles Chargers’ running back Melvin Gordon and Dallas Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott are right for holding out and demanding their teams give them more money. As two of the best running backs in the league, and in a position that has the second-shortest average career length, money is of the utmost importance. Which is why the blame should be placed on those with the money to give: team owners.

NFL owners would love nothing more than to keep their money and have fans place the blame completely on the players. By only going after players, fans allow owners to maintain their vice-like grip on NFL athletes. If the owners truly cared about their players, they’d pay them, knowing this time might be the only chance they have at making money to support themselves and their families. It’s time for owners to be held accountable, and it starts with the fans.