Add John Madden to the growing list of people who think professional football and Las Vegas is a bad combination. In an interview with Sirius XM’s Hall of Fame radio, Madden expressed his concern about the challenges Sin City will present.
“I would hate to be a coach to take a team in there. I would hate to have my team be in Las Vegas on Saturday night before the game. And that’s any team. You say, ‘Well, you had a bunch of rowdies,’ but every team has a bottom 10. You can say, ‘Oh, we got a good group, it’s a great group, we’re together,’ and all this stuff. Say you have 55 guys. Forty-five of them can be perfect, but you’ve got that bottom 10. And you have to be as good as your last guy. If this thing goes through, I think there’s going to be a lot of problems like that.”
Madden’s coaching credentials speak volumes. But it has been almost 40 years since he was at the helm of the Oakland Raiders. Much as the game on the field has evolved rapidly, the world at large has undergone a complete transformation in recent years. Critical NFL voices from the older generations don’t seem to grasp that the rest of the country has become more like Las Vegas than Las Vegas has become like the rest of the country.
Technology now allows players all the vices of the desert from the comfort of their phones. Amorous companionship can be found by swiping right. Online betting sites are always taking action. Illicit substances can be procured easier than ever before. All of these things can be found in every city with a professional team, at the touch of a screen.
A player can get in trouble anywhere if he wants to get in trouble. Las Vegas is not special. Yes, sports gambling is legal and there are more options. But a member of the Indianapolis Colts has access to a video casino, a Detroit Lion has his choice of downtown blackjack tables. There are strip clubs in towns both big and small. Vegas’ may be bigger and better, but it’s the same general idea across the nation.
(And just to clarify: I am not moralizing. What players do in their off time is not my business to judge — as long as no one gets hurt. By “trouble” I mean stuff that would create headaches for an NFL front office).
There’s an argument to be made that having access to all the options Las Vegas provides could help quell players finding themselves in precarious situations. There are more four-star restaurants to visit, more non-controversial entertainment options. It’s not as if living in Cincinnati has kept the Bengals roster out of trouble over the past decade.
There seems to be a split surrounding the off-the-field challenges presented by a Vegas-based team. The old guard is much more concerned than the younger generation. And that’s understandable. They are tied into the old-school notion of how trouble starts — and that version requires a lot more legwork. They believe the physical proximity is a major factor in the probability of something bad going down.
While conceding that such a position isn’t totally crazy, it’s not how the younger generation operates. They understand that the world is increasingly small and professional athletes’ access to whatever they want has never been more barrier-free. That’s true in major “party” cities like New York and New Orleans and it’s true in relaxed Phoenix.
To a certain extent, it’s telling that such a cynical attitude toward players exists from the old guard. To suggest that they can’t resist the guiles of Vegas suggests you don’t think too highly of their self-control. In reality, these are multimillionaires who deal with temptation constantly, no matter the city.
There is nothing magical about Las Vegas as it relates to player behavior. To think so is to live in the past.