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NFL needs to do right by victims and fans

Before Seahawks Fever hit like a legion of boom, “Men smashing into other men” was the only way I knew how to describe America’s favorite game.

And yet it should be noted that I played high school football. Once.

In ninth grade I played “touch” football with a PE teacher who knew how to put the ouch in “touch football.”

I wasn’t quite “football material,” so I did my best to stay away from the commotion. But eventually I got pulled front and center and someone “hiked” me the ball. Staring down 12 snarling ninth-graders who finally had a sanctioned excuse to knock me down, I had two choices: fight or flight.

After scoring a point for the other team, the PE teacher shook her head and yelled across the field that I’d better show that much hustle when it came time for track.

The good news is that I don’t have to play football, or even fully understand it, to enjoy it. I know a touchdown when I see it, and that’s enough to earn me a double high-five and a fist bump.

“Who says you can’t win a Super Bowl two years in a row?” is all the entré I need to be welcomed into Seahawks Country. At a time when many of us are living in separate religious, economic and political silos, football is as communal as it gets. In Seahawks Country, no one cares where you live or what you drive; they want to know how loud you can scream.

Too bad for me that just as I finally recognize all that football has to offer, the game itself is in a fight for its honor.

Running back Ray Rice clocks his girlfriend, accused child abuser Adrian Peterson is asked to sit out a game, Greg Hardy is appealing a domestic violence conviction and there are other cases of extreme aggression out there, some we know about, others kept under wraps.

Questions arise: Is it the culture of football itself that causes players’ aggression, or is it the repeated blows to the head?

While neurologists and sociologists argue about how best to answer those questions, everyone is looking at the NFL to see how it will respond to the offending players.

If players who have stepped so far outside the boundary of what is acceptable behavior are allowed to play, the NFL threatens the strongest thing football has going for itself: the allegiance of us.

We buy the tickets and the jerseys and the bumper stickers. We do so because these players represent us.

How the NFL deals with abusive players will determine if football is a noble game fought in the context of a civil society or if it is a game to be won at all cost.

Like most fans, I believe it was meant to be a contest between one set of brave men “smashing into” another set of brave men; for players to fight fair on the field and wear the colors of the peoples they represent: the old and young, rich and poor, male and female, gay and straight, novices and experts, and every race and creed. This is the 12th Man’s portrait.

Representing these fans is the relevance of football. It is the why. Allow criminals to wear our colors or exclude one part of the fan base and the game itself erodes.

The NFL has an opportunity to prove that it will have no affiliation with anyone who denigrates another in any shape or form. Along with taking a hard line against criminal behavior, the NFL should also stand with our senator, Maria Cantwell, who is leading the charge against a team whose name has stains of mockery and shame.

To the NFL and to that “other Washington” team, all I can say is: Don’t underestimate your fans. They may not be the 12th Man, they may not wear the green and the blue, but if you do the right thing and you keep football the noble sport it was intended to be, they will stay with you.

The ball’s been hiked, NFL, and we’re watching.

Karen Irwin of Tacoma teaches writing at Clover Park Technical College. Email her at irwinkd@yahoo.com.

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