The NFL’s questionable social conscience

A league that claims to care about any number of ailments in today's society can't even look after one player's health problems

RED DEER, Alta. Dec. 2, 2016/ Troy Media/ – The NFL usually means the National Football League but lately it has been the call sign for something completely different: hypocrisy.

The sports giant has suspended Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson for 10 games for failing a drug test. It’s his second suspension this year, having already served a four-game ban. His crime? Smoking doctor-prescribed medical marijuana. The hulking tackle suffers from Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel condition that affects the lining of the digestive tract. It’s an extremely painful disease and Henderson has had two intestinal surgeries as a result of it. Given the state of his digestive system, he can’t take traditional pain killers. Marijuana is his only real option if he wants to function normally, never mind play a demanding game like football.

This isn’t the same situation as disgraced Cleveland Browns receiver and all-round knucklehead Josh Gordon, who has spent more time suspended for failed drug tests than not.

In Henderson’s case, he is not smoking up as he parties and he’s not taking performance-enhancing drugs. He’s taking a legally-prescribed drug to deal with a debilitating condition.

Is that worth the NFL bringing down the hammer?

On the flipside is the league’s handling of domestic abuse issues.

The NFL has apparently learned nothing from the Ray Rice scandal a few years ago except how to put lipstick on a pig. The league produced a splashy advertising campaign after the star running back was caught on video punching his fiancé and promised to be better at cracking down on instances of domestic violence in their ranks.

As always, if a player is good enough, the league will sweep his problem under the rug.

Veteran place kicker Josh Brown was given just a one-game suspension following an investigation into allegations that he physically abused his then wife Molly. The allegations surfaced in 2015 but there had been about 20 other incidents in recent years, including one at the Pro Bowl where his wife and kids had to be moved to a separate, undisclosed hotel.

Brown admits to the abuse.

The New York Giants re-signed the 37-year-old kicker in the off-season, despite being fully aware of the investigation.

It wasn’t until the NFL slapped Brown on the wrist in October that the Giants released him, but he is still free to sign with any other team. And chances are there will be another team. His issues were well known previously yet he continued to get opportunities.

He is far from the only such domestic abuse headliner this NFL season. Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was under investigation for domestic violence – charges he has since been cleared of – when he was drafted fourth overall in the last NFL draft. He is a lead candidate for rookie of the year. But a second round of allegations has surfaced involving Elliott and the same woman. An investigation is underway.

Kansas City Chiefs rookie receiver Tyreek Hill represents another shining example of the league turning a blind eye. Two years ago, he was kicked out of Oklahoma State after pleading guilty to hitting his pregnant girlfriend in the face and stomach, then choking her. He received three years of probation and had to enrol in an intensive 52-week batterer intervention course. After a year at a Division 2 college football program, the Chiefs took him in the fifth round of the draft. Last weekend, he was named rookie of the week after a big game against the Denver Broncos.

If the NFL was serious about their stance on domestic abuse and their female fans – as they wrap themselves in pink every October in support of breast cancer – players like Hill would not see the light of day in the league. But hey, he plays football well – fans will forget all about it when he’s putting the ball in the end zone.

All of this is a stupefying contrast to Henderson. He was using a prescribed substance that is fully legal in 11 states and legal on a medical basis in 12 others – including New York, where they Bills play – to treat a debilitating disease. And he has now been suspended for 14 games.

But hey, the NFL has a social conscience. Just ask them and they’ll produce a righteous video.

Troy Media columnist Josh Aldrich has spent the last 14 years covering the wide world of sports in B.C. and Alberta. Josh is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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