The NFL’s Women Problem

I love football. If you are reading this, follow me on Twitter, or have ever spoken to me, you know this fact. I’ve often said my favorite place in the entire world is Heinz Field on a crisp fall (or freezing winter) day. I was an NBC Sunday Night Football Fan of the Week last December and was able to be on the field for pre-game warm-ups. It’s not a stretch to say that it was one of the best nights of my life.

I love football. I’m obsessed with football. I sometimes write a crappy blog about football. But I don’t know if I want to watch it anymore.

The fact that the NFL does not seem to think violence against women is serious is a problem for me, as I imagine it is for most women. Why should I spend my money on an organization that doesn’t care if I get assaulted by one of its players? Why would I want to spend a single dime on an organization that clearly thinks of me as less of a human being because of my anatomy? Make no mistake, that’s what’s going on here. If Ray Rice punched a male opponent during a football game (which is violent in nature), he would’ve likely gotten the same (or possibly a worse) suspension that he received for knocking his fiancée out in an elevator.

Being a female NFL fan is difficult. Beyond the normal sexism that female fans are accustomed to, such as being told we don’t know anything (including by Pittsburgh media members–I’m looking at you, John Steigerwald); being called “cleat chasers,” and the general sexual harassment/cat calls/etc. from drunken male fans that occur at every game. We also have to deal with a league that tells us that a man who smokes pot has committed a greater crime than a man who commits assault (physical, sexual, or otherwise) against a woman.

At least that’s the message I’m getting from the NFL.

Let’s look at the facts. I’ll start with my own team, because the Steelers hypocrisy runs deep in these matters. March 2008. Cedrick Wilson, a mediocre wide receiver, is charged with domestic violence. He was released hours later. Maybe they thought it made up for their lack of action when star linebacker James Harrison was charged with the same crime earlier in the month.

In April 2010, the Steelers traded Santonio Holmes to the Jets after he was accused of throwing a glass at a woman in a nightclub. That’s in addition to domestic violence charges that had been brought against him before he had ever played a down in the NFL.  Perhaps this move was made to appease their critics a month after doing nothing when their star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, was accused of rape for the second time in less than a year.

But this is the NFL. Memories are short. The words of Al Davis can be applied in this situation: “Just win, baby.” In both cases, the Steelers did. Less than a year after domestic violence charges were brought against Harrison, he was a hero again for making the most incredible play in Super Bowl history. Roethlisberger was suspended for four games to start the 2010 season, and led the team to their third Super Bowl appearance in six seasons.

And so we forgot. Or we at least put it out of our minds in order to enjoy the game we love to watch.

Ray Rice’s hard punch to Janay Palmer’s face brought all of our hypocrisy screaming back to us.

People are outraged because of the video released by TMZ today, myself included. But the truth is we should’ve been this outraged all along. Rice had already been seen on the video dragging an unconscious Janay Palmer out of an elevator. What else could have happened inside that elevator? Say Janay Palmer DID attack Rice first…would that have made it okay? He’s a professional, well-conditioned athlete going up against a woman. Why would any physical action towards her have been acceptable?

The authorities, the legal system, the NFL, and the Ravens have all royally failed Janay Palmer. How could this have happened? How could the Ravens have possibly thought it would be appropriate to hold a press conference where the victim took blame for her “role” in the incident. As if she brought this on herself.

It’s hard to be too surprised by how badly everyone screwed up in regards to Ray Rice and his punishment. After all, this is society today, and don’t kid yourselves into thinking it’s not. It’s scary to be a woman. We are taught to not be “stupid” and if we are, well, then we probably deserve whatever we get. The onus isn’t on men to not hit us or rape us, it’s on us to prevent such things from occurring. We are taught from an early age how to avoid being hurt, raped or worse. We are told not to go out alone at night, because that’s the smart thing to do. We are told to park our cars in well-lit areas, because otherwise you’re asking for trouble. We are taught to hold car keys a certain way in our hands, to fend off any attacker that could come our way. We are told to we shouldn’t put our drinks down or to even look away from them in public, because we could be slipped drugs. We are harassed online consistently without anyone ever really taking online threats seriously.   We are told not to dress certain ways, for fear of appearing “easy” or “slutty” or “asking for it.” Women are blamed for their rapes all the time. “She shouldn’t have been drinking so much”; “she shouldn’t have worn such a low-cut top”; “what was she thinking going out by herself at night?”

The same thing happened to Janay Palmer. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith took the opportunity to remind women that they should not “provoke” their own beatings. One or more NFL sources told several reporters (including Peter King, Chris Mortensen, and Adam Schefter) that the NFL saw the video from inside the elevator and there was evidence Palmer attacked Rice first. So Janay Palmer was not only punched by Ray Rice and asked to apologize for her “role” in being assaulted, but then she also had her named smeared by the NFL via several national and (seemingly) reputable reporters.

For anyone saying, “well it couldn’t have been that bad, she DID marry him” (Ron Cook said he had “zero respect” for her because of that fact, which shows how clueless he truly is). This is what often happens in domestic violence situations. Women are scared to leave their abusers for fear of being hurt worse, or even killed. If you are saying “she did this just for the money”, or “it must not have been that bad if she still married him”, you are further victimizing Janay Palmer.

Cris Carter asked earlier on ESPN the most important question in all of this:   “How can Janay Palmer ever recover from this?” This question is so much bigger than Ray Rice’s future in the NFL, his “earning power” (side note: screw you, Mike Ditka), or how this will affect the Ravens on a short week. How can this woman ever recover from this? She will always be known as the woman who was punched on videotape by her football player fiancé. I don’t know if she can ever recover from this, but I hope she does. I hope she can find peace somehow and move on from this awful situation. She is the victim in all of this—not Ray Rice, not the Ravens, not the NFL. She is not to blame, nor is any woman who is the victim of domestic partner violence. I hope everyone remembers that.  And I hope everyone stops to consider how they’d feel if a woman they loved were a victim of such a crime.


Dejan Kovacevic wrote a great piece on this.

Keith Olbermann takes authorties, the Ravens and the NFL to task.

Another great read on this topic (h/t to my buddy Matt on Twitter for the link)


2 thoughts on “The NFL’s Women Problem

  1. Well said. I have lost so much interest and respect for the NFL as a whole. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get it back, or if I even want to.

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