As the National Football League season is upon us, and at the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I’m compelled to confront a paradox many women face. The enlightened and forgiving among us understand the game as a rite of male passage from high school through adulthood. But we struggle with the symbolism and the violence.
As a graduate of the University of Michigan, more times than I can remember, I have wrapped myself in a blanket against 25-degree temperatures and happily endured frozen bleacher seats and numb fingers and toes simply to share in a sisterhood with “my girls” and 111,000 of our closest friends in the Big House. Give or take a few.
“Our allegiance to football legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for greed, racism, sexual violence and homophobia,” says Steve Almond in his book, Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto.
The chilling images of violence against women from last year are difficult to erase. A year ago, TMZ released the now-infamous video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his now-wife, Janay Rice, in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator. The replay was irrefutable evidence. The court of public opinion docket is littered with cases like Ray McDonald, Greg Hardy, Frank Clark, Ahmad Brooks, Justin Cox, Jermaine Cunningham, Jonathan Dwyer, Quincy Enunwa and Junior Galette.
I prefer to enjoy football as it happens on the field, but I cannot escape the steady stream of negative stories and images of violence against women. I am concerned that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would invest more resources in investigating the proper inflation of footballs than the proper way for football players to treat women.
The fact that over 70 percent of NFL players are African American only heightens this conflict for black women. We are accused of seeking out these players and willingly subjecting ourselves to violence for money and fame. Media coverage suggests that this is primarily a black issue. It’s not, of course. Data show (pdf) that white women experience slightly lower rates of intimate-partner violence than black women (6.2 per 100,000 vs. 7.8 per 100,000). In the past 10 years, the rates of intimate-partner violence for white women have risen 14.6 percent, as compared with 9.6 percent for black women.
Surely this can be stopped.
“If there’s one thing players now realize in the past year, which is probably different than anything they’ve ever faced before, this has become a career-ending issue,” one high-level club executive said recently.
The NFL is starting its second year of mandatory domestic violence/sexual assault education and awareness classes for every member of all 32 organizations, and in observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the league will publish a new series of anti-domestic-violence public service announcements in October.
Social and moral progress is inconvenient. It requires that we take stock of our own behaviors and make uncomfortable decisions that are in the short term difficult but beneficial in the long term. But will the NFL risk ratings and revenue to deal effectively with this issue?
Are PSAs enough? Should beating up your wife or partner be a career-ending issue?
As we consider the prospects of the Seattle Seahawks atoning for a questionable Super Bowl call or Michigan beating Ohio State, can we also consider the prospects of ending violence against women?
It would be good for the game.
One more thing. Go, Blue!
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.
Linda Goler Blount is president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, a national nonprofit providing programs that support the physical, emotional and financial health of black girls and women of color. She is also a Public Voices fellow of the OpEd Project.