by S.L. Fevre, Eden O’Nuallain, Cleopatra Parnell, Amanda Smith, Vanessa Tottle, & Gabe Valdez
We’ve been asked a few times if we’re going to write on the NFL and its domestic violence situation. In truth, we’ve had difficulty finding the right words to apply to the situation.
First off, so you know where this is coming from, four of us are football fans: Cleopatra and Eden passingly; Vanessa and Gabe as die-hards (Vanessa’s been to Super Bowls, Gabe’s never missed watching one in his life); and S.L. and Amanda couldn’t care less about the sport.
We wanted to come up with a straightforward statement that, despite all our different perspectives, we could agree on and fully support, word for word. Here it is:
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked in his single interview since he bungled the league’s approach to domestic violence and finally suspended domestic abuser Ray Rice indefinitely: does he believe the NFL has a domestic violence problem?
Let’s be clear. The NFL does not have a domestic violence problem. The world has a domestic violence problem. To contain this to the NFL is to once more exceptionalize it, to rationalize it away as something that happens to others who live a different lifestyle, to pretend it’s unlikely to happen to people you know because it’s the sort of thing others do.
The problem with the NFL is not that it has a domestic violence problem, it’s that it has THE SAME domestic violence problem America does at large. We overlooked it when it happened in boxing, baseball, and basketball, but football is America’s sport. We are not implying that the NFL should be excused. It should be nailed to the wall. We are saying that other sports, and not just sports, but other walks of life, should not be excused.
We didn’t care when Wall Street did it. We didn’t care when it happened in Hollywood. We didn’t care when politicians did it, so long as it was to their wives and not a mistress. We cared for a minute but got over it when Chris Brown did it. We didn’t care when a company we hired with our tax money to help run Iraq caged an employee in a trailer after a gang rape. We didn’t care – we are very good and very practiced at diverting our attention elsewhere.
It’s not that the NFL has a domestic violence issue, it’s that we have a blind spot a mile wide and suddenly, exceptionally, we finally had a story hook into us, and reporters who have pushed this issue for years finally caught our cultural ear at the right damn moment.
We are angry at the NFL. Their corporate headquarters should be swept out on its ass, because they deserve it and because it will send a message to other leagues and corporations. The San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, and Minnesota Vikings are all hiding behind a due process excuse that teams and the league have been extraordinarily inconsistent about applying in the past. They need to shape up and get the message, too.
But we are angrier that this is only an issue when it happens to the famous. Our fear is that this is a moment, that we’ll move on. Our fear is that, once the media tsunami has passed, Goodell will find an “extenuating circumstance” to allow suspended players back into the league early as he’s so famous for doing (the NFL just rushed a new drug policy this week to get back two star receivers early). Our fear is that this issue will once more disappear in a few months, rather than be expanded upon and pushed into other industries. Our fear is that we’ll be able to go on thinking it’s been addressed because the NFL fixed one example of many in our lives. Our fear is that we’ll think those football players are so dirty and rotten, and that will be the out that allows us to ignore blatant domestic violence elsewhere.
Even ESPN continues to run Floyd Mayweather and Jameis Winston ads in between its Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice and Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy coverage. It’s a blatant and oblivious statement that we’ll care about abuse in one place because it’s too big to ignore, but we’ll turn around and ignore it somewhere else because we feel we’re already addressing it.
Our fear is that people really do believe this is a problem with the NFL, or with athletes, or with celebrities, and not a problem that happens every day, not a problem that happens to 1 in 3 women in their lives, not a problem at all because it happens to someone else, someone on TV, someone who you’ll never meet. Our fear is that we can pretend it’s a TV issue while we turn that mile-wide blind spot on our own lives. Our fear is that, like the league’s history of inconsistency, we have a cultural history of equivocating, justifying, and dismissing.
Our fear is that the public relations strategy the league is adopting to handle this, rather than understanding and changing, mirrors disturbingly the public relations strategy so many people adopt in their day-to-day lives. Rather than understand and change, it really is easier to ignore and exclude.
The NFL needs to be punished. But they’re not the only one. Our outrage and motivation should not stop where the league ends.
This is not a problem with the NFL. This is a problem. Period.