Today, on his vanity site Monday Morning Quarterback, Peter King published an open letter to NFL players in the wake of the shitshow playoff game in Cincinnati between the Bengals and Steelers. To say that King scolds NFL players for destroying our beautiful and precious game is an understatement. This man, who has built a wildly successful career on the work of these players, sat at his desk and barfed out a masterpiece of burden-shifting and handwringing. It is sincere, in that Peter King way. He does all he does for the greater good of that venerable American institution, the NFL.
The letter is classic Peter King. He takes great care to remind the players that Americans—families, parents, coaches and of course, The Children—are all depending on them to uphold the honor of bashing their skulls together for our entertainment. That is the crux of the thing, and also of Peter King's worldview. Just look at this shit:
This was the lesson from the climax of this playoff game: Stop at nothing to win, even if it means concussing the opposition. Taunt your foes. Hit them with the crown of your helmet. Sneak onto the field to induce them into a penalty. Anything to win the game. Demean yourselves. Shame your former coaches and your parents. Show them if you win the game, it's all good. All's fair in love and football.
That is literally what football is. For years, players have been specifically instructed to do whatever it takes to win. There is no honor in the Oklahoma Drill; it's something coaches used to prepare players for battle, and also they say things like "prepare for battle" when talking about this sport! Everyone in the football business makes analogies between football, teamwork, and learning to become a man. It's hogwash, and Peter King has been trading in it for years. But only from a certain perspective.
Why didn't Peter King write an open letter to the referees who allowed this all to transpire by exerting exactly zero control during the entire game, passively watching it devolve into shameful chaos? Why didn't Peter King write an open letter to the coaches who exerted exactly zero control over their players? Or Why didn't Peter King write an open letter to the owners, who continue to exert exactly zero control over their employees?
These are rhetorical questions: from Peter King's certain perspective, The Shield, and the teams and owners, are what make football honorable; the players make the games happen, but the institutions are what King (and others!) care about most. As far as he's considered, the players are bestowed and entrusted with the honor of working for these bosses. That's why he's able to write something like "one of the great franchises in American sports, the Pittsburgh Steelers," in discussing a game where a Steelers coach threw a Bengals player by his dreadlocks and not sense the irony in omitting that from his list of dishonors to the game.
What happened in Cincinnati was not a good look for the whole of the NFL, and the players obviously share in that responsibility. But, more often than not, they do "play the game the right way." That's why it's so shocking when something like this happens. But this constant fluffing of the NFL at the expense of the players, deflecting blame from the league's (many, countless) ineptitudes, then writing a goddamned open letter to the players telling them they _demean themselves—who are you serving in doing all this, Peter? Fans? They still watched football on Sunday. Players? Ha. The Game? That sounds about right. The Game, or more accurately the people who control and sell the fiction of—["On the frozen tundra of Lambeau" voice_]—The Game to saps like you as something honorable.