Early summer is hard on football players.
Quick and dirty count as of two days ago—15 arrests of professional football players this summer. 30 stories of arrests or players kicked off of college football teams this summer. The count rises each day. The incidents usually involve drugs or alcohol linked to assaults, mayhem or driving incidents. It happens every early summer to football players. The predictable articles and hue and cry will arise about how violent football players are, especially given the Aaron Hernandez murder charges. But this occurs each year at this time of year. It has its own rhythm tied to the dog days of summer. Why?
Football teams groom and recruit violent young men or men capable of angry controlled violence to play this game. The successful ones often live in a bubble that tends to protect them from too serious consequences for off field squabbles. At the same time, these young men, often from angry and violent backgrounds, learn that their bellicosity and strength can be channeled into “productive” activities. They learn to hit, smash, run, block, crunch, power through on the football field and get rewarded. They learn to endure pain and inflict pain as a path to glory and a future.
The point to remember here is that these young men ages 18-25. Young men do stupid violent things all the time, hopefully without too much hard being done. Football players are rewarded for their belligerence and remain capable of calling upon violent action and exploding into controlled force at any time. Some escape to football from cultures where violence surrounds them and learning to be tactically violent is a survival tool. Others come to football with a huge residue of anger. Football players possess in abundance normal male fueled hostility and culturally fueled anger.
All football players possess the capacity for serious disorderly violence if the discipline and team ethos that shapes and directs it is not around. In this they are not so different from many other males their age—left without purpose or authority or structure; they get into trouble. College and professional football coaches are not noted for their gentleness, the culture and structure surrounding teams needed to nurture, control and direct the capacity to inflict and endure pain takes constant authority and strength.
Early summer poses multiple problems for college and professional football players. Many are too young to be married. Often they have little home or not much home to go to. Few of them have summer jobs to fill their day and exhaust them. Free time, boredom and lots of roiling energy—not a good combination.
More importantly during the early summer the football players are unmoored unless anchored in a family. Their peers doe not surround them with norms and goals that can support directing anger and tempers. Those peers also give them a culture of banter and bashing that permits lots of the competitive anger and violence to find safe outlets. Even safer outlets occur during practice and team condition drills or working one on one with trainers and coaches. During early summers college players are free—they may be in class, but are not imbedded in team or coaching authorities.
Likewise professional athletes who are not married are free with lots of money and status to wander and look for ways to get into trouble. They are not surrounded by teammates or coaches or minders.
On the other hand unlimited opportunities for fun and mischief beckon them. Lots of folks, friends, wannbes or hanger-ons will urge them on into trouble or not great situations at bars and clubs and parties. A few from the old neighborhood have other more twisted or complex agendas offering the fun and challenge and initiation of crime to their “old friends.”
Strong coaches, team rules and peer culture give them homes where they often had none. The stress and demands of forty to sixty hours a week of practice, conditioning and travel and playing dominate their times. Players often do not have the time or energy to get into serious trouble during the season. When it happens, it almost always happens at an after game party. These are the safe times that structure the matrix to grow as players and if done right as self-controlled young men.
It happens every summer. The arrests and charges for drinking related crimes or mayhem or assault will rise until camps begin. The discipline of teammates, coaches and sheer physical and mental work of being a modern football player will tap out or direct the anger and aggression. The common purpose of forming a team and winning championships will give purpose and meaning that undergird the discipline for the belligerence that so many can call upon.
With luck players will make it through the summer intact without too much damage to themselves or others. With luck, help and maturity, they will grow through the mess and temptations of early summer and end up as mature good men.