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To Understand the NFL’s Inconsistent Handling of Domestic Violence, You Have to Enter the Matrix

NFL Matrix-Roger Goodell
December 6, 2018 (Updated)
Sheilla Dingus

“This is your last chance.
After this, there is no turning back.
You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.
You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
~ Morpheus (The Matrix 1999)

Without a doubt, the owners of the highly coveted and insanely expensive NFL franchises chose the blue pill.

Those living within that Matrix have their own reality which is far from the reality of most who view their product or even labor within it.  They have an agent whose purpose is to solve conflicts between their Matrix reality and the realm outside it.  His name is Roger Goodell.  Their truth is whatever they will it to be.

The non-investigation of Kareem Hunt lack of discipline for Tyreek Hill vs 6 games for Jarran Reed (or fill in the blank with the latest inconsistency) is merely the latest example of when their reality clashes with public expectation outside their Matrix.

Inside the Matrix Kareem Hunt Tyreek Hill (etc.) is viewed as a cog within the machine capable of making game-winning plays and adding value to their Matrix world.  The woman who accused him is an abstract figure; someone who shouldn’t have touched their machinery if she wasn’t willing to accept the risk she could be injured.  Within the Matrix there was no reason to inspect a functioning piece of equipment unless a brush with those outside the Matrix became inevitable and threatened their temporal reality, however punishment may occur if the occupants of the Matrix see a need to keep their workforce in line (think Jarran Reed).

Recently Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for the New York Times, and celebrated author released a book entitled “Big Game”.  Leibovich has written numerous books on the privileged circle of politicians, moguls and socialites in Washington D.C.  In “Big Game,” he enters the NFL Matrix.

A book review on Football Nation shares some excerpts and insights.  After praising the work of Leibovich for its seamy details, the reviewer questions whether it should even exist, “There’s a case to be made that Leibovich’s beat shouldn’t exist, if only because of the even more compelling case that the class he so nimbly sketches should be walking around with ankle monitors on, at the very least.”

A glance inside the Matrix causes the writer to ponder the alternate reality he sees:

He compares them in power and swagger to a nation-state, “so insulated by privilege and power from both consequence and the contours of normal human behavior that they are only intermittently recognizable as people.”

I’m convinced there are at least four different realities in frequent collision.  The NFL owners and their highest-ranking elites who took the blue pill and create their own reality.  The Matrix has some similar pills that project their reality to those who consume them and they selectively distribute those pills to their agents whose job is to impose the Matrix reality on those outside it.  The effects of these pills are temporary, however, and those who ingest them are eventually cut off and find themselves outside the Matrix they worked to preserve.

Most people haven’t taken any pills at all.  Their reality largely exists in a much narrower space and focuses primarily on their intimate surroundings.  Their interactions with the Matrix consist of consumption of their product and drifts from news cycle to news cycle when it conflicts with their own perceptions of proper human behavior. A collision, here, a collision there, a spark of outrage, and then the reset button is pushed.  Then, there are a few who have taken the red pill, and like Morpheus, Neo, and Trinity, see fit to do battle against the machine in hopes of waking a vast humanity that doesn’t feel asleep nor see a need of awakening.

I think I stumbled upon the red pill by accident.  Like most people, I used to react with the news cycles, expressing outrage when the Matrix collided with my own space and sense of reality.  Like many others I found myself mesmerized by the product marketed by the Matrix, known as NFL Football.  As a Patriots fan, Deflategate forced a collision between my reality and the Matrix.  I couldn’t see any reason for Tom Brady to cheat in such a nonsensical manner as letting a tad of air out of footballs, but a part of me wanted to know the truth.  Did he, or didn’t he?

I wandered closer to the rabbit hole as I observed astonished professors whose own reality collided with the Matrix, seeking to inform the public about the Ideal Gas Law.  The professors were utterly astounded that a basic scientific principle apparently didn’t exist within the Matrix.  I accepted their conclusions and anticipated that the Matrix would as well, ready for my reset button to be activated.  I was mistaken.

Alice stares down the rabbit hole

Like Alice, I unwittingly tumbled down the rabbit hole and found myself gazing at a strange world.


Someone slipped a red pill into my Kool-Aid while I was reading the Wells Report.  It became apparent at the time that someone was attempting to craft an alternate reality by disputing science and crafting a narrative from obscure text messages that seemed to have little if any relationship to football and air, so I strained to see down the rabbit hole, and as I did, I took a tumble.

I landed on a pile of court documents and began to read.

I discovered a provision within the CBA negotiated with the NFLPA, known as Article 46.  It was through that machination that the Matrix sought to impose its reality on those on its fringes.  Agent Goodell was given the power to make decisions on behalf of the Matrix, evaluate them, and enforce the will of the Matrix on anyone within the fringe who may have fallen into disfavor.  To my astonishment, while a lower court seemed in synch with my perceptions, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed direction in favor of the Matrix.

Deflategate Opinion

As I sorted through the documents, one leading to another and eventually, the one referenced above, I stumbled upon many others that were unrelated to Deflategate but derived their essence from the same alternate plane of reality.  Among the documents were court records of how the NFL attacked its former players when they sought to recover disability benefits from them.

Just as in Deflategate, where the Matrix spent what most people would consider an astronomical amount of money to construct an alternate reality to explain away the laws of physics and a rule that permitted them to impose that reality upon those within their reach, they created rules to disqualify former players from benefits bargained in the same CBA that contained Article 46, crafting their own alternate realities of a player’s condition and designing the ever-changing hurdles he must clear in order to receive the benefits promised to him.

I’ve come to realize these players were given lower-dose blue pills when they arrived at the draft.  Maybe before.  Perhaps they were given their first dosage when they started playing football, and as their talents grew and appeared useful, they were given periodic doses to maintain the grip of the Matrix, including the one given at the draft.  Eventually, their physical bodies wore down and the Matrix realized they would need to be replaced in order to keep the machine functioning at optimal performance.

As the pills wore off, the players realized their true condition and the toll the Matrix had taken on their bodies.  They thought they were a part of it but learned that once their usefulness is diminished, there would be no more pills, only the reality that was concealed from them when they served the Matrix.

Strewn throughout the rabbit hole were various news clippings.  Several told the story of Ray Rice and how the Matrix brushed off his assault of his fiancé until a news outlet caused a temporary rupture in the Matrix by releasing to the public, violent video leaving no doubt as to his actions.

Agent Goodell scrambled to salvage the situation.  It was more serious than most in that Anheuser Busch threatened to pull their sponsorship, and sponsorship money kept the Matrix stable.  Goodell, realizing that people generally didn’t approve of domestic violence vowed the league would do better.  He constructed a “zero-tolerance policy” in which offenders would face a 6-game suspension from their homes in the Matrix.  He sought to impose it on Rice, but in that instance, the justice system collided with the Matrix because they concluded the second punishment was in conflict with prohibitions of double jeopardy.  By the time the court rendered its decision, however, the crisis had passed.  Anheuser Bush was secure and the people were distracted.

There were other instances of domestic violence that rippled within the Matrix machine, but they barely caused a blip on the screen since there was no video evidence to incite the public.

The next incident to cause a disturbance was when evidence surfaced of Giants’ kicker Josh Brown’s abuse of his wife.  Lower-ranking agents had done a good job of keeping a lid on his repetitive abuse until a reporter put hands on some damning documents he’d written that confirmed that he repeatedly abused her.  A trip to the Exempt List was all it took to quiet the rumblings.

Lots of other names were strewn in the clippings scattered about the rabbit hole: Ben Roethlisberger had twice been accused of rape, Greg Hardy and Tyreek Hill were accused of violent acts against their girlfriends, but there was no video and no documents to incriminate them.  Joe Mixon presented a slight problem since video surfaced of him punching a woman in a bar.  Agent Goodell took control, however, and informed the public that since the incident occurred prior to his entry to the league there was nothing the NFL could do.  As expected, after Mixon was drafted and became a useful cog in the machine, public outcry diminished, and a sense of normalcy returned to the Matrix.

Ezekiel Elliott brought a different set of challenges.  While allegations against him mounted, including a domestic violence situation in college, a few bar fights, and exposing a female friend’s breast to media cameras, it wasn’t until additional domestic violence allegations surfaced that the Matrix found a need to react.  Agent Goodell promised the public an investigation and decided to suspend Elliott for 6-games to prove that he was, after all, tough on domestic violence.

There was a problem, however. Lead investigator, Kia Roberts, became a rogue agent, concluding that the evidence didn’t support the allegations the investigators were tasked with examining.  This wasn’t a problem in the Matrix, however.  Article 46 gave Agent Goodell the authority necessary to suppress any reality in conflict with that of their reality.  The NFL’s Special Counsel for Investigations, Sub-Agent Lisa Friel provided only the information requested by Agent Goodell and omitted the findings of Sub-Agent Roberts.  Goodell delegated his role as an arbitrator to another Agent, Harold Henderson, to avoid accusations of impropriety as had surfaced during Deflategate, but the result was the same.  A narrative had been constructed and implemented, resulting in the correct message reaching the public. Elliott would pay the price for all the prior bobbles that had the public on edge and serve a full suspension.

The drama played out in courtrooms from Texas to New York and the lead investigator’s conclusions surfaced, but in the end, they weren’t enough to disrupt the Matrix.  Article 46 prevailed once again.

Elliott Opinion

When it comes to labor disputes, federal law, by way of LMRA §301 predominates, and all but disallows a court to touch a CBA negotiated arbitration even if there are “serious errors.”  Fundamental fairness as it applies to commercial arbitrations through the Federal Arbitration Act isn’t recognized in the Second Circuit.  The cunningly one-sided provisions of Article 46 permit the Matrix to craft and impose the reality of their choosing.

As I’ve navigated deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, I’ve seen many more alternate realities crafted by the NFL. Far too many to elaborate on in great detail, but I’ll share a few.

To begin, there are painkiller lawsuits filed by former NFL players who allege serious injury from the many injections and pills administered by the Matrix to keep them capable of functioning within the machine.  Though not mentioned in the lawsuit, one of those pills was the low-dosage blue pill that created the illusion that they were part of the Matrix, and that one made all the other pills easier to swallow.  Now the Matrix claims all the painkillers, many of which were illegally distributed and administered did not harm the players but rather the injuries they sustained while performing their duties in service of the Matrix; the statute of limitations has long passed for redress if you accept the NFL’s arguments.  They call upon court procedures designed and generally interpreted to protect corporate interests to keep cases such as this from ever reaching a jury composed of real people who might take issue with an alternate reality.

The Matrix is far-reaching.  The NFL exists only as one of its many interconnected dimensions, all of which exist to serve the needs and perpetuate the realities of the billionaires who occupy the Greater Matrix that includes politicians and corporate powers.

Recent alternate realities the NFL seeks to impose are seen in the widely proclaimed concussion settlement.  Retired players, now ejected from the Matrix navigate a hellscape as they seek the promised compensation for brain injury sustained in their service to the Matrix.

Further serving the Matrix, attorneys who are handsomely compensated by the NFL have challenged the nature of players brain injuries, or whether they exist at all.  They’ve called into question the ability and integrity of scores of doctors who’ve examined former players, the lawyers who represent them, and even the court-appointed Special Masters responsible for overseeing the settlement.  When one views all of this, the obvious question is, “how can the NFL be right and so many others wrong?”  The answer lies in the Matrix and the reality one perceives.  The attorneys representing the NFL are but additional agents tasked with parsing legal doctrine in order to avoid a reckoning with the chosen reality of the Matrix residents.  In that reality, machines don’t get brain damage because they’re not human. Retired players are regarded as little more than discarded androids that were useful for a time but should now vanish because they’re disrupting the happy reality of the occupants of their former world.

The lawsuit filed by the daughter of disgraced, former Patriots star Aaron Hernandez is another example.  The attorney agents of the NFL have worked to establish a very different timeline than the one history records regarding Hernandez’s retirement or lack thereof.  In my article, I compared their attempts to change the historical narrative as entering a time machine to alter history.  They have also inserted claims into her lawsuit that were never pled while artfully dodging the ones she did plead.  This can only be to confuse the judge as to which reality is truly real.

In view of this the NFL’s handling of the domestic violence allegations against Reuben Foster and Kareem Hunt are not surprising in the least.

Many op-eds express surprise, dismay, and sometimes both at the way these incidents have been handled, compared with the words uttered by Agent Goodell.

Elissa Ennis spoke on Good Morning America expressing shock regarding how quickly the Washington Team snatched up Foster after he was finally released by the 49ers.  She also related how the 49ers attempted to discredit her to the police while providing cover for Foster.  While disturbing to any person with a conscience, the behavior is hardly surprising.  When plugged into the system, Foster performed at a high level, earning an assessment of value within the Matrix.  Once that value diminished due to bad PR, Agent Goodell acted quickly to place him on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, keeping him out of sight until public scrutiny dies down.

As details emerge on the NFL’s investigation of Kareem Hunt, many have expressed disbelief that no one interviewed Hunt or his accuser. Some have wondered how TMZ managed to obtain video that the powerful and wealthy NFL was unable to secure.  The Athletic reported that the Chiefs attempted to obtain the video and were given instructions to back off.  In one respect it’s surprising the Chiefs even attempted to obtain the video.  Hunt is a star running back that proved to be a particularly useful cog for their own machine. When the video surfaced, the Chiefs seemed more upset that he lied to them than his violence against a woman which by that time, they’d seen with their own eyes.

A lawsuit filed by former investigators who were unceremoniously outed from the Matrix provides a few more clues:

Foran Lawsuit

Notice the higher agent, the NFL Director of Investigations, decides who is to be interviewed and what evidence to obtain.  In the instance of Foster’s victim, she was apparently viewed as an enemy to suppress.  As for Hunt’s alleged victim, she could unravel the narrative if acknowledged.

Why is there no concern for these women or the ones who came before them?  They live outside the Matrix; therefore, they aren’t real.

Most players also cease to be real once their usefulness to the Matrix diminishes.  Some who performed particularly well may be given a blue pill from time to time as the Matrix finds temporary uses for them either at Hall of Fame time, or as props at a Super Bowl.  Others like Merril Hoge, who recently wrote and published a book seeking to debunk research linking CTE with football are given regular doses and enlisted as agents to once again defend the shield and preserve the realities that exist only inside the alternate universe.  I’ve come to believe that the Matrix in which the NFL owners reside is as real to them as our reality is to us.  If they weren’t capable of inflicting harm in our world by projecting their reality into ours, it would be almost amusing.  But instead, when their Matrix collides with our more tempered reality, real human beings are harmed.  I’m also convinced there are more than a few of us who’ve swallowed the red pill, but unfortunately, it doesn’t yield superpowers like the one in the movie.  It will take vast numbers of people in our society awakening to challenge Matrix, should we choose to do so.


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Editor at Advocacy for Fairness in Sports | Website

Sheilla Dingus founded Advocacy for Fairness in Sports in October 2016, after a stint with Defenders of the Wall, a New England Patriots based blog where she dived deep into the legal aspects of Deflategate. Along the way, she observed many inequities in sports and felt a need to address some of the under-reported stories in sports law. She draws from her background as a former professional dancer, who like many of the athletes she writes about, took an early retirement due to orthopedic injuries. After a return trip to college she worked for a legal software company, with seven years as a Project Manager and Analyst. She brings her analytical skills to the table in breaking down complex lawsuits, and enjoys pursuing her longtime interest in journalism.

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