By TJ Carpenter
Whether through refusal to follow the rules or refusal to play until nothing is left of their knee cartilage or memory, NFL players make a choice on when they no longer want to put football first. Mike DeVito has chosen to prioritize his family and his faith over the Chiefs and football. Hussein Abdullah, who had already left football once for his faith, is leaving again, this time to preserve his mind, citing concussion concerns as the reason for his retirement.
Sometimes it’s a little more frustrating. Josh Gordon and Johnny Manziel, a pair of Browns players aren’t going to be playing football because they prioritize pot and partying over football. And before you moralize this by pointing a finger at the NFL’s hypocrisy and perhaps stupidity in upholding a ban on pot that comes with a severe penalty for repeat offenders of the rule, remember this: The rule is the rule, you may not agree with or like the rule, but it's the rule. We can talk about changing it, and it probably should be changed. But as long as you know it can harm and perhaps even end your career, you are making a choice as an athlete to prioritize football or pot.
Rules are often times arbitrary. You may not always like your choices, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to make a choice. Josh Gordon made a choice. He chose pot. Johnny Manziel is making a choice, to party instead of play in the league. And fans are upset with them for these choices, because teams could benefit from their talents.
But fans are on some level upset with Abdullah and DeVito as well, they may respect their priorities and choices more than they respect Manziel’s and Gordon’s, but nevertheless fans know now they have to replace those players with someone else.
The NFL always likes calling the shots, dictating terms. The NFL hated it when Myron Rolle decided to pursue a Rhodes Scholarship instead of getting drafted to be a backup, perhaps starter, in the league. And now some Chiefs fans are frustrated with DeVito and Abdullah for leaving the Chiefs high and dry, compounding some of the problems the franchise is facing, like the loss of a 3rd round draft pick this year.
We are a reflection of our choices, and our choices are a reflection of our priorities. While we may view the opportunity of playing in the NFL as one we’d never pass up, for athletes who are that talented, it just isn’t the same. Much like you, they have families, they have hobbies, they have jobs, they have vices. Not everyone prioritizes those things in the same way. If you’re at the office at one in the morning, you’ll probably get that promotion, but you may also miss out on the fun at the club, or your daughter’s soccer game.
These players are telling us who they are, every day. Some of them are jerks, talented jerks, but jerks none the less. Some of them are family men and women. Some of them are pot heads, or poets, or good ol’ boys. Some of them are pathologically competitive and have a relentless desire to be the best at what they do and be defined by what they do.
All J.J. Watt does is workout and watch film and he stays away from any vice and most recreation in general. It makes sense he’s the best Defensive End in the NFL. It also makes sense Johnny Manziel doesn’t have an NFL team right now. But we shouldn’t be mad at Watt because he seems fake (when has he had time to develop a personality?) and we shouldn’t be mad at Manziel that he’s wasting his chance to play in the NFL (He clearly would rather party and have fun.) because those are the choices they are making.
The NFL has a problem with concussions, it has bad rules on pot, it has harsh jealousy of everything else that isn’t football and shows that double standard often. But, it also offers those that play, glory and fame and fortune. It’s okay when a player decides they’d rather pursue other things. The rules, written and unwritten, exist. While we may not like them - they may be arbitrary - but we have to follow them. We don’t however, have to villainize and moralize every time someone chooses to make a different choice than we would make. Players are telling us who they are. It’s time we start listening.
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