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What Fans, Parents Are Saying About The NFL Lately

ARUN RATH, HOST:

We are three weeks into the NFL season now, but very little of the conversation around the NFL these days is focused on the game. Several players have been involved in incidents involving or alleging domestic violence. It's made many fans question the sport and the men who play it. Yesterday, for the first time in more than a week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke publicly about the incidents and the league's handling of them.

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ROGER GOODELL: Unfortunately, over the several weeks, we have seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong.

RATH: We wondered how far that wrong trickles down - how it affects football at all levels. NPR's Nathan Rott went to a Friday night football game in Gardena, California just south of Los Angeles to find out.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Serra High School.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: It's a packed house under the lights at Serra High School. People pile into the stands. The marching band plays. And the team is pumped.

(CROWD CHEERING)

ROTT: That Serra Cavaliers are something of a powerhouse in Southern California. They're the 22nd ranked team in the state. Many of their players are looking at Division I scholarship offers. And in recent years, they've graduated a number of guys that have gone on to play in the pros.

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ROTT: Midway through the first quarter, they show they're still not hurting for talent.

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ROTT: So yeah, football is a pretty big thing here. And fans like Jane Austin are upset when they see its stars, like ex-Baltimore Raven's running back Ray Rice, physically assault his now wife.

JANE AUSTIN: That's the mother of your child. And you should treat her with all the respect in the world.

ROTT: Or when Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges.

AUSTIN: I mean, you know, I'm from the South. I got whippings to. But you have to know how - what the boundary is.

ROTT: But Austin says that doesn't affect how people feel about the sport overall.

AUSTIN: No, because if you're a football lover you're going to be a football lover to the heart, no matter what.

ROTT: Dishawn Roberson sees it the same way. She's the mom of Serra's star running back. And yeah, she worries about football and injuries like concussions.

DISHAWN ROBERSON: But it can bring more positivity to your son than anything else.

ROTT: And she says it beats the alternatives like drugs and alcohol that, she says, pushes kids away.

ROBERSON: Football brings your kids closer. Because when this is over with, my son's going to say, did you see when I - did you see when I?

ROTT: So what of those teenage boys? I ask a group outside the stadium about the charges against players. They joke and jaw like boys do. None of them condone what's happened. But they have some choice words about how people are reacting.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: It's crap. It's unnecessary bull crap.

ROTT: Because you think they like - they get a bad rep because they're athletes?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Yeah.

ROTT: But Serra coach Scott Altenberg doesn't see it that way. He says he's using what happened in the NFL as a teaching moment, time to talk to his athletes, many of whom will go on to play at higher levels, about accountability - what it means to be an athlete and what it means to be a man.

SCOTT ALTENBERG: It's unfortunate that these things have made it a forum that I can access now with my kids, but I am absolutely going full-blown on it. And, you know, I think that's good for our kids. They need it.

ROTT: Some good in weeks filled with bad. Nathan Rott. NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.