Freedom and Football


(Property of the New England Patriots)

In his best known work, On Liberty, John Stuart Mill outlined his views on the concepts of liberty and freedom of speech, among other major issues. While Mill was against censorship, he only promoted the liberty of the individual to a point. He believed that people should be able to do as they wish unless they harm others. In the case of government, Mill only advocated intervention when it was needed for the protection of society.

John Stuart Mill (via Wikimedia)

Recently, the NFL has had numerous disciplinary problems with high profile players. Scandals involving Ray Rice of the Ravens, Richie Incognito of the Dolphins, and other athletes have been the subject of extensive news coverage. The newest issue involves former Steelers running back LeGarrette Blount, who was released by the team on Tuesday. Blount was dropped by the Steelers after he left the field early last Sunday, protesting his lack of carries in the game.

Blount has had disciplinary issues in the past, and his pouting during the Steelers-Titans game can be seen as the most tame incident to date. In this case, Mill would have said that LeGarrette Blount was well within his right to walk off the field, as his form of protest and expression of his opinion did no harm. Unfortunately, the previous incidents he has been involved in would definitely have caused the philosopher to call for his removal from the sport, and I would have to agree.


Blount in his first season with the Pats (via Wikimedia)

In 2009, when playing for the University of Oregon, Blount was suspended for punching one of his opponents before going and confronting a group of fans. After entering the NFL, he had another problem in which he punched a teammate in his first season with the Tennessee Titans. He has clearly been a major issue and a threat to the safety of other players, yet he continues to play in the NFL even after being released by multiple teams. The Patriots have now signed Blount to another contract, starting his second stint with the team.

In the wake of the Ray Rice incident, the NFL vowed to take a much harder stance on domestic violence, but they clearly care little for violence towards members of their own league. As a government of sorts over the sport of football, it is their job to protect these players, and that is simply not being done. Players like LeGarrette Blount have far outstretched the right to individual liberty and free speech by assaulting other players and even putting fans in danger.

Mill wrote; “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Going by this philosophy, the only time the NFL would even have the right to intervene and remove a player is in a situation like this one, so it is incredibly surprising that they do not act. After the league has supposedly been making efforts to “clean up,” it appears that the league could still use a lesson or two in Mill’s philosophy (as well as the one they’ve been preaching).