The technical final straw: the shameless, unapologetic drafting of woman-beater Joe Mixon. Yet another offense in a string of offenses committed by Bengals management. Certainly not the first, nor likely to be the last.
In fact, Mixon's crime is so mundane in the scuzzy Athletic Criminal Hall of Shame that "the media" will move on long before I even finish this blog post. For me, punching a woman in the face so hard that she smashes into a table and breaks four bones in her face is pretty bad stuff. Giving such a criminal a huge "second chance" is unacceptable to me. Yes, legal adult 18-year-olds should know better. If my daughter was the victim, my anger would be unending.
But, hey, it was, after all, "just" a punch in the face, as opposed to, say, murder or rape.
No, my bitter divorce from NFL football has been lingering in the courts for years. Mixon is merely the excuse to call the jury in for the final verdict.
How to piss off a sports fan
I grew up, like most American boys, a huge sports fan right here in Cincinnati. I played or participated at varying levels in every sport available to me; baseball, soccer, softball, tennis, golf, volleyball, basketball, street hockey, ultimate frisbee, frisbee golf, flag football, cycling, swimming, skiing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, roller skating, squash, even kickball.
When I wasn't outside running, tossing and kicking, I was inside watching the Reds and Bengals, collecting baseball cards, talking sports, arguing sports, playing fantasy football, etc.
I cannot begin to guess how many thousands of dollars I have spent on Reds tickets and beers and pretzels; on $9 beers at the few Bengals games I've been invited to attend; on the many more Bengals games watched over fries and pizza and chips at countless bar gatherings; not to mention tailgate parties from Chicago to Kansas to Rochester to Cincinnati and road trips to a least a dozen places. I have a closet full of sweatshirts and team caps, and a drawer full of sports T shirts.
I treasure a long list of sports fan experiences, from agonizing over two Bengals Super Bowl losses to rushing to Fountain Square with a broom to celebrate the Reds big sweep of the 1990 World Series.
Sports just aren't fun anymore
But most of my interest in big time sports has been ruined by the utter corruption that giga-wealth has brought to the games. I'm sick of college sports corruption. I'm sick of pro sports scandals. I'm sick of the endless marketing hype, the non-stop mini-dramas, the phony hero worship, and the cynical jingoistic flag waving that passes for sports "patriotism."
Sports really have stopped being fun for me.
The beginning of the end began when I realized that I was being forced to pay for sports, whether I watched or even cared about the games. The ESPN shakedown of cable TV that drives up my entertainment costs without actually entertaining me is one part of that. But the bigger part was the utter greed of the Bengals fleecing of Cincinnati.
There was a time when I imagined how cool it would be to see a game in every baseball and football stadium in America. But after the massive rip-off that created Paul Brown Stadium, things changed. Thanks to crooked leadership and sheep-like selfish fans, "we the people" used the power of democracy to approve a sales tax to build a stadium for the billionnaires of the NFL. The lopsided, blatant screwing of the taxpayer in the Cincinnati deal is legendary among a long list of bad public sports subsidies.
As a result, to this day, our very poorest citizens have to pay extra for everything they ever buy in Hamilton County. They have to pay the exact same sales tax hike that our richest denizens of Indian Hill have to pay -- yet unlike the rich, the poor folks cannot afford the overpriced tickets and beer. Then it got worse. During the lean years of the recent recession, our county government literally faced cutting real, needed government services so that the county could keep paying its stupid stadium debt.
For me, the complete failure of local government to do even one thing to "fix" the bad Bengals deal was a deep and permanent strike against everything about pro football. The fact that a county commissioner later wound up on the full-time payroll of the team was just adding insult to injury.
The grim reality that nobody ever even thought about expecting Congress to step in and ban cities from wasting tax dollars on for-profit pro stadiums only further illustrated how deep the sports corruption has become in this nation. Oh yes, state governments will jump in almost overnight to stop a city from letting trans people pick their bathroom. Oh yes, the federal government will act right now against "sanctuary" cities. But Congress won't lift a finger and the president won't say one word, not even a tweet, about the completely inappropriate use of tax dollars to subsidize pro sports. Meanwhile, Las Vegas throws its taxpayers under the bus for the Raiders. It goes on and on.
So yeah, sports has become political. Extremely political. Yeah, that kills a lot of the fun.
All the myths are busted
Meanwhile, whatever mythos existed about the honorable true athlete striving for greatness has been stomped and shredded so thoroughly by the corrupt athletes themselves -- and their legions of spinners, hypers, agents and lawyers.
For a long time, I truly believed that many people could learn valuable positive lessons from sports. The payoff of hard work. The value of teamwork. Etc. But now, the only lesson left is that being a sports fan equals being a sucker. The bad has soured the good.
The Bengals are hardly alone in their phoniness. But theirs is the phoniness I live with every day as a citizen of this community. The Bengals are held up as a symbol of civic pride, as an important part of the community fabric, as somehow fundamental to the city's very economic survival.
We all do understand that nothing bad would happen to Cincinnati if the Bengals vanished in a poof, right? The economic benefits have been disproven over and over. The city might actually do better.
And yet, Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis get kudos for doing charitable things. Many former Bengals have stayed involved in the city over the years, from Boomer Esiason to Anthony Munoz to Chris Collinsworth to Ickey Woods and various others.
But while touting these "good guys," the Bengals also never seem able to stop hiring criminal, obnoxious, vastly overprivileged and generally nasty players. Look at this list of 43 offenses since 2000: http://nfl-arrests.pointafter.com/d/a/Cincinnati-Bengals
According to USA Today: The Bengals accounted for 31 arrests from 2005 to 2014, ranking it No. 3 for the most player arrests among all NFL teams for the period. Aren't we special? Cincinnati, right here in the great heartland of America. We certainly are exceptional.
The joke that the Bengals true stripes are prison stripes is so old it has become cliche. And I'm tired of it.
This is the Bengals' fault. This is their choice
I don't have to expect pro football players to be perfect to be disgusted by the Bengals track record. It is my right to say that the charity donations and celebrity appearances don't make up for these offenses. The destruction of the team's own myth-building is literally the result of decisions made by Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis.
They are the ones who chose to ignore repeated arrests of Adam Jones. They are the ones who did nothing when Vontaze Burfict committed atrociously vicious fouls, well, except for giving him more chances, even after his (and Jones') antics cost the team its third shot at the Super Bowl.
There has been no offense that crosses their bottom lines. They have no real honor. They are bottom feeders looking to cut corners with flawed players because they can't compete straight up with the biggest boys. Maybe the team should be renamed the Catfish. Or the Crabs.
And yet, "we" are the ones who prove their cynical strategy correct by pretending not to notice, or worse to actually not care what kind of violence a player commits. As long as they bring home a win and keep the beer flowing. Who Dey!
That the Bengals get away with fleecing the taxpayer while trotting out a line up laced with criminals is, in fact, a reflection of the fan base. The number of fans who have publicly stated their complete support of Joe Mixon in recent days is shocking, disappointing and yet somehow not surprising. It is amazingly sad how many people have missed virtually every lesson ever taught by parents, teachers, coaches, preachers, bosses, cops, judges, popes and (most) presidents. It is disgusting, really, what people will overlook in order to be entertained.
Time to send the jersey back
So I'm finally done with it. And -- except for the sales taxes I cannot avoid -- the Bengals will miss out on my cash. In fact, I plan to send my old Bengals jersey to Mike Brown with a copy of this rant.
Maybe Mike Brown doesn't care. So what?
The fact remains that this citizen will not be going to the local pub on game day. I will not be sitting down to watch a game at home, nor will I be inviting friends over for a game, nor will I be buying snacks to feed them. Too bad, Kroger!
There are hotels out there that will get no money from the road trips I won't be taking to be a football tourist. There are merchandise vendors who will not be selling any jerseys or hats to me. There are advertisers who will not reach me. There are media outlets that will not be able to count my readership, viewership or listenership. Sorry Doc! Sorry Ken Broo!
And there are political leaders from city hall to the White House who will find it that much harder to win my support every day they continue to blithely allow the corruption of pro sports to erode the institutions and culture of this nation.
Sports culture is a massive money maker for a bunch of big businesses in America. I suggest that you do some brand protection, or else your investors might start asking questions.
I still demand better from the whole bunch of you. From fans to big media to big sponsors to the players and coaches. I just don't expect it much anymore.
I won't be back until it gets better. And I'm not just talking about one stupid running back who couldn't figure out how to not punch a woman in the face.