The National Football League is a gigantic spectacle, captivating fans’ attention every Sunday during the fall and early winter months. It has millions of viewers and generates billions of dollars in revenue. And it relies upon its players to provide the entertainment to draw us back each week.
If the players can’t play, the league can’t function, yes. But if the league doesn’t take action when players do something despicable, we’re looking at a bigger problem than a simple monkey wrench thrown into a billion-dollar system. We’re looking at a morality problem. And if the NFL blurs the lines about what it really believes, we have to ask ourselves if we should really use our time and support of its teams as a vote of confidence — something ESPN anchor and mother of three Hannah Storm put into context on Sunday night. Listen to what she said:
“At breakfast this week, instead of discussing how her team was doing, we watched the Ray Rice video play out again in all of its ugliness,” Storm said, in a tearful monologue. “I spent this week answering seemingly impossible questions about the league’s biggest stars. ‘Mom, why did he do that? Why isn’t he in jail? Why didn’t he get fired?’ And yesterday, ‘Why don’t they even have control of their own players?’ So here’s a question. What does all of this mean for the future? What does it mean for female fans, whose dollars are so coveted by the NFL, who make up an estimated 45 percent of the NFL’s fan base? Are fans and are families, are we as parents supposed to compartmentalize everything that’s happening? Are we supposed to simply separate a violent game on the field from violent acts off the field? And if we do, what message does that send?”
It’s tragic. We shouldn’t even have to ask these questions about domestic violence, which should be downright intolerable. Zero tolerance means just that: Simply as humans, we will not tolerate domestic violence of any kind. Yet, while the league may have penalized Ray Rice for his assault on then-fiancée Janay Rice when he was indicted for the crime in March, it wasn’t more than a slap on the wrist by the Baltimore Ravens and commissioner Roger Goodell before the horrific video of the incident actually surfaced in the media. And we all saw a moment of brutality words can’t fully describe. As Hannah indicates, the parties involved just made clear that the NFL doesn’t take domestic violence from its player all that seriously.
As a longtime football fan myself, it’s hard to watch the NFL virtually turn a blind eye to the Ray Rice incident, only acting when their hands were forced, and then turn to support the league in the aftermath. As women, what kind of example are we setting if we put our time or dollars toward an organization that doesn’t take domestic violence as a serious offense? Like Hannah Storm’s daughters, what are we advocating to a younger generation of girls? That because these men are athletes playing a brutal sport, their actions are in some way OK or justifiable?
It’s a shame we have to think about that today, but in light of what’s happened in recent weeks, I do. Every time I turn on my TV to watch a game, I wonder if I’m indirectly supporting the league’s actions in the process simply by watching a sport I enjoy. As a woman especially, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. And frankly, whether I watch or not, if change doesn’t happen, everyone involved — myself, the league, the teams, the players, women in general — has already lost.
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