In a political year filled with more stupid statements than Mitt Romney has offshore bank accounts, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton unleashed a doozy yesterday. While discussing the recent legal problems of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who has been charged with resisting arrest after getting into a fracas with an off-duty cop in Houston earlier this month, Dayton told Minnesota Public Radio that playing football is very much like being in military combat.
He started by saying that football players are so accustomed to violence at work that getting in trouble on their off time is more likely for them than for John Q. Public.
''It means that young males who are heavily armored and heavily psyched as necessary to carry out their job are probably more susceptible to be in bars at 2 o'clock in the morning and have problems, or DUIs. It doesn't excuse it, it just says that it probably comes with it,'' Dayton said.
But then he took it too far, saying that football players may be as likely to cross the law as some small percentage of war Veterans because of the similarities between playing football and serving in combat.
''It's basically slightly civilized war,” said Dayton, of playing professional football. “And then they take that into society, much as solders come back, and they've been in combat or the edge of it and then suddenly that adjustment back to civilian life is a real challenge.''
While the Vikings lead the NFL with 39 arrests since 2000 and should probably consider having a criminal lawyer on retainer, comparing guys playing a game 40 to 50 hours a year to the enormous danger and strain faced by our troops in combat is both absurd and offensive.
More than 6,500 of our military men and women have died at war in the last 10 years, which is in stark contrast to the, well, none, who have been killed in a professional football game in the same period.
And there’s an obvious difference between your foe being someone who wants to make you fall down and go boom and an enemy whose express goal is to end your life and the lives of everyone around you. The biggest risk faced by NFL players is an under-diagnosed concussion which, while a serious problem, is significantly down the scale from being shot to death or suddenly being blown to bits by an improvised explosive device.
Professional football players also work before adoring, cheering crowds to earn riches in an environment where the most hostile action they’re likely to face is a drunken lout from the other team’s fan base dumping beer on them as they head for the locker room, a press conference and their waiting Ferraris.
Comparing football to war is like saying someone accidentally stepping on your toe is similar to them running you down with their car.
If you want to liken football to the stresses of combat, let’s start by arming, say, 20 percent of the stadium crowd with assault rifles and maybe five percent of them with RPG launchers. Oh, and then the players need to be on the field in front of these fans – who can fire at will – every day for a year or so. And then the NFL warriors get to come back and do that for two, three and four times during their careers.
By the way -- and in case this isn’t obvious -- Governor Dayton has never served in the military.
And that’s fine. Being a Veteran is not a prerequisite for serving honorably and ably in public life. But when you’ve chosen a profession that gives you the opportunity to frequently step in front of a microphone, it’s important that you choose your words carefully and avoid saying something that at the very least is silly and at worst is downright contemptuous of the sacrifices made by our military people.
News flash for Minnesota’s governor: America has lost 85 men and women in Afghanistan since just the beginning of May.
I bet their families would give anything to see them playing football right now.