“The NFL is akin to the hunger games, they’ll eat their young to win the Super Bowl and if you want to play on one of these teams you have to have the same mindset and obviously.” — Boomer Esiason
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Rishard Matthews was released by the New Orleans Saints on Saturday. An obviously frustrated and bitter Matthews took matters a step further Monday, announcing on Instagram that he has retired from football.
It wasn’t your typical, emotional thank you to the fans coaches that usually accompanies an abrupt retirement. Matthews penned a scathing poem titled “No Longer Exist,” in which he calls the NFL out on its “brainwashing” culture and lists some of what he’s leaving behind, a lot of which is sharply negative:
His comments instigated a further negative conversation about what some perceive as the NFL’s “toxic”, racist and self-serving culture.
I caught up with legendary sports broadcaster and staunch Obama supporter James Brown, and former NFL quarterback and Trump guy Boomer Esiason, at CBS’ NFL Media Roundtable on Wednesday. While their political stances may differ, they were pretty much in agreement on how they felt about Matthew’s description of his seven-year NFL career.
“JB” is known for being the studio host of The James Brown Show, The NFL Today on CBS Sports, and Thursday Night Football on CBS Sports and NFL Network. He is also a Special Correspondent for CBS News and is known for serving as the former host of Fox Sports‘ NFL pregame show Fox NFL Sunday for eleven years and has been covering sports since the 1970s.
The Harvard graduate has watched the evolution and transformation of college and pro sports first-hand. His opinion on social issues is always at the forefront of any discussion.
While he is totally sympathetic to the plight of the black athlete and African-Americans in general, Brown credits the NFL with providing players with plenty of support systems and post-career help.
James Brown: “Not knowing the particulars of what he is referencing, look… the business, in general, isn’t necessarily very person-friendly. But what I can say because I’ve been at this a long time now and I know people like Troy Vincent who’s the No. 3 ranked official in the NFL and has been there 15 years as a player and his player-engagement program has been robust for a long time.
I’ve been humbled and blessed to be the host moderator for the “NFL Broadcast Bootcamp,” which brings in players every year to expose them to every facet of the media business so they can determine whether or not they are interested in pursuing a career with the understanding of what the business is all about.
That’s one of the examples… so that they do. They also had a career program for those who wanted to become producers and were interested in music. They still do have an arrangement in respect to business schools, for those athletes looking to move into business. Whether it be working for a large corporation, or themselves.
So they’ve got a range of those kinds of player engagement programs, so I would be the one to say I am impressed with what they are doing and certainly the NFLPA too. These player tutorials also expose them to life after football. Because the average career is only 3.4 years so it behooves them to do that. The NFL has myriad programs for players to look at what opportunities they can pursue after their playing days.
I know personally in terms of Roger Goodell’s commitment to these things that, look, there are a lot of challenges out there, I’m not going to run away from that at all. But the world of football is a tough business, they’re not necessarily going to go out there and give you a big hug.”
Boomer Esiason exhibited even less support for Rishard Matthews’ situation. Esiason parlayed a 14-year-NFL career into various plush analyst gigs with different major sports TV and cable networks. He also hosts the successful morning sports radio program Boomer and Gio on WFAN in New York.
Boomer: “I don’t know what went on in his career, but he made a lot of money and had an opportunity and for some reason, it didn’t work out. Sometimes a little self-evaluation is helpful. We actually made fun of it on our show this morning, the way he ended it with this does not exist…does not exist…does not exist.
It’s sad that players leave with a chip on their shoulder, but he had an opportunity man …you’re not always going to get hugs in the NFL. The NFL is akin to the hunger games, they’ll eat their young to win the Superbowl and if you want to play on one of these teams you have to have the same mindset and obviously, he didn’t have it.”
The Divided League
There’s going to be a division when a player makes a broad statement condemning the league, its culture and its concern for the players, as Matthews did. He also lost some brownie points with teams with his consistent protest during the national anthem last season.
Some people have worked in and around the NFL for decades and are loyal to the establishment, as they’ve experienced the positive effect that being involved with pro football has had on their lives. Others don’t get what they wanted out of the sport like Matthews and former Detroit receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and leave the game bitter, with a negative view of the sports’ culture.