The NFL flourishes and we enable.
Some 300-pound guy named Richie Incognito allegedly bullies a Miami Dolphins teammate, makes him pay for veterans' trips because the guy is a rookie, reportedly hurls racial slurs and death threats at him and gets himself suspended.
We are horrified, disgusted, stunned by such behavior. Even the most avid fan sees how far this crosses the line of sports, competition and entertainment.
So we talk to our buddies and express our disgust. We maybe make silly jokes about Incognito's name and where he'd like to be right now. We listen to sports talk radio, which loves to tackle things such as this, and rightly so, and which attracts similar outrage to what we are feeling, as well as the usual idiots who see everything through testosterone-laden macho prisms.
"The other guy's a wimp," says Fred from Fresno. "Too gutless to fight back. I sure wouldn't want to go to war with him."
Whatever, Fred. As soon you get off the radio, go outside and tear some wings off a butterfly. You'll feel better.
Mostly, the reaction is sensible. What Incognito is reported to have done to teammate Jonathan Martin is an outrage. It doesn't belong in the game, doesn't represent what sports is about. Sure, the NFL is a tough, brutal business, played by tough, brutal men. But there needs to be a level of decorum even in tough, brutal businesses.
We are a civilization. The cave-man era is over.
The most revealing thing is what happens next. Interestingly, Incognito already has that figured out. When a TV reporter bravely tracked him down in Miami on Tuesday, his only comment was, "I'm gonna weather the storm."
Time will pass and will tell him it is all right, because it always has in his previous scrapes with decency. And because we will allow it.
We may think that this one is in the hands of Commissioner Roger Goodell, but it is not. He will stick his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing — and how hard — and navigate through the politics of his owners and the players' association before arriving at punishment and procedure that will sound good and be most expedient. He's a highly paid politician on whom none of his constituents, us, gets a vote.
So it's in our hands.
We can stop buying tickets to these games, stop sending NFL TV ratings through the roof by responding like Pavlov's dogs with remote TV controls, stop buying the products of the sponsors who advertise on the game telecasts.
That's the only way to change this, the only way to say we are mad as hell and we aren't going to take it anymore.
That's the only way to say that we are sick of a business that gives us a steady diet of Adam "Pacman" Jones and Rae Carruth and Lawrence Phillips, that even now celebrates Ray Lewis as if he multiplied loaves and fishes.
That's the only way to say that a business that starts its season with the Aaron Hernandez story doesn't deserve our attention for the rest of it.
The New Orleans Saints bounty story was worth taking our time and money elsewhere. The parade of retirees with brain damage, keynoted by the suicides of Dave Duerson, Junior Seau and Ray Easterling, could have sent us away to watch basketball or baseball. Or read a good book.
We could have seen the $765-million blood-money payoff by the NFL to injured retirees for what it was, especially the part in which the NFL admitted no liability, apparently asking us to believe it acted out of the goodness of its heart.
But no. The ratings keep climbing. So do the TV contracts. The rich in sports get richer, and the NFL is the richest of all.
Thanks to us.
We love our NFL gladiators. We can't help ourselves. Their entertainment value far outweighs our righteousness. The between-games stuff tests our scruples and intelligence. But we rationalize our way through it. We are turned off on Tuesday and tuned in on Sunday. Richie Incognito will weather the storm and so will we.
We forgive and forget. Aren't second chances the way in this country? Michael Vick didn't kill people, just dogs. Let's hope he gets all the way back from that injury soon. He's on our fantasy team.
Let the NFL disgust and abuse and shock and appall. Let it skew the standards of civil behavior and set shocking examples for our impressionable children.
Just don't let it go away.