Tag Archives: domestic abuse

Deflate-gate: Why Cheating in Sports Doesn’t Matter (Unless it Does)

by Gabriel Valdez

Let’s be clear about one thing, football fans: We watch a cheater’s game.

Yes, it looks like the New England Patriots under-inflated footballs in the Conference Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. This serves a competitive advantage so that QB Tom Brady can grip the ball more easily.

Their opponents in the Super Bowl will be the Seattle Seahawks. In their Conference Championship win, they let QB Russell Wilson skip the league-required concussion protocol after a vicious hit to the head. This is the same Seahawks team that’s had six players suspended for performance enhancing drug (PED) use since the appointment of Pete Carroll as head coach.

The Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers in that game to get to the Super Bowl. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is on record telling analyst Phil Simms two years ago (ironically, right before he played the Patriots) that he tries to get away with sneaking over-inflated footballs past the refs, providing a competitive advantage for his touch passing style of throwing.

When the Patriots beat the Colts last weekend, they played a team with the league’s most promising young QB at its helm: Andrew Luck. Many believe that Colts coaches purposefully tanked the 2011 season, a strategy that is acknowledged and accepted in the NBA but is illegal in the NFL. Why would the Colts do that? So they could get the #1 overall pick in 2012: Andrew Luck.

Not every team cheats on the field, however. In order to get to the Conference Championship game, the Patriots had to beat the Ravens in a tight match-up. This NFL season started with Ravens RB Ray Rice knocking his wife unconscious. Evidence came out that the Ravens and NFL conspired to hide the details of the incident. There are even texts on record in which the Ravens owner, Steve Bisciotti, tells Rice that he’ll take care of it and there will always be a place for Rice on the team. Rice, of course, was punished, although it took the league a few times to get that punishment right. For their attempts to cover up the incident, the NFL suffered a PR fiasco that ultimately has little impact on the league, excused itself of any wrongdoing through an internal investigation, and the Ravens suffered no punishment whatsoever.

The Seahawks had to beat the Panthers in the Wild Card round. Years ago, the Panthers underwent a massive PED investigation that called into question their own appearance in Super Bowl 38.

The Packers also beat the Cowboys two weeks ago. Just a week earlier, the Cowboys were accused of influencing the referees and the league to make calls in their favor, a notion ridiculous on its face but exacerbated when video of the league’s VP of officiating from earlier in the season resurfaced. What did it show? The man leaving a Cowboys party bus full of women who appeared to be strippers. That’s nothing against those women, but they aren’t the ones in charge of the league’s officiating. Come to think of it, maybe they should be.

Also in this year’s playoffs, the Colts beat the Broncos, who in 2010 were fined by the league for an incident known as Spygate II. Spygate I, of course, involved the Patriots videotaping another teams’ signals. The illegality doesn’t lie in the practice, as many believe, but simply in what section of the seats you decide to set your camera to do the videotaping. The Broncos were fined.

Other playoff teams this year include the Bengals, Cardinals, Lions, and Steelers.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is outspoken about treating the league’s concussion protocol as a nuisance, and is suspected of letting several players pass through it without proper diagnosis.

The Cardinals are actually fairly scandal-free, which is perhaps one reason they were also playoff-free until this year. They did have a player arrested on domestic violence charges earlier this year, but unlike the 49ers, Panthers, Ravens, and Vikings, they promptly released their player. Oh, wait no, I’m sorry. The Cardinals have held onto starting LB Daryl Washington, despite his being suspended a season for assaulting his girlfriend. You see, the player they cut immediately, Jonathan Dwyer, was a reserve backup and doesn’t give them any real competitive advantage. Washington does.

The Lions, meanwhile, are known as the dirtiest team in the league. DT Ndamukong Suh stomps on players while they’re down and kicks them in the groin. After Suh intentionally stepped on the torn calf muscle of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, he was suspended a game. As NFL Network analyst Brian Billick correctly guessed, this was so the league could look tough while negotiating the suspension down to a simple fine, so that Suh could play in the Lions first home playoff game in two decades.

Even ignoring Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger’s two rape accusations (which, one should note for fairness, were never pressed past accusations), the Steelers have their legacy cemented in NFL history because of their four 1970s Super Bowl wins. Never mind the massive amount of steroids players on those teams admitted they took.

You want to call Super Bowls into question? The New Orleans Saints won their heroic comeback to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina on the back of an on-field bounty scandal, wherein players were paid extra whenever they injured an opposing player enough to remove him from the game.

The Baltimore Ravens won two Super Bowls with star LB Ray Lewis, who was involved in a murder investigation in 2001. He later pleaded down, and the league never mentioned it again.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Brad Johnson admitted that he paid for under-inflated footballs in the team’s lone Super Bowl win, over the Oakland Raiders.

The Dallas Cowboys, “America’s Team” in the 1990s, covered over arrests through settlements that amounted to legal bribes with parties who were assaulted and abused by its players, thereby keeping some of its biggest stars on the field at a time they should have been in jail.

New York Giants Super Bowl star LB Lawrence Taylor admitted to paying for drugs and prostitutes to be sent to the opposing team’s hotel the night before big games.

As for under-inflating footballs, though it might pale by comparison to some of the examples above, it’s still cheating. But let’s be clear: that’s what this league is. I fully believe that 90% of players are just doing a job and trying to do the best, most honest work they can. But those 10% left over make a difference, especially when you factor in owners for whom no rules really apply. Teams around the league make concessions to keep those 10% on the field and to give their teams any advantage they can. Nearly every playoff team and Super Bowl victory deserves some sort of asterisk next to it.

I say all this, but I’m a football fan. Hell, I know all this because I’m a football fan. I’m nuts about football. I can’t wait for the Super Bowl. I think it’s one of the best matchups in recent history.

Frankly, I’ll take a team under-inflating footballs and a team with some PED problems any day of the week over teams hiding away domestic abusers and paying bounties for career-threatening injuries.

I’d like to see the Seahawks treat the concussion protocol more seriously (this is true for all teams, including the Patriots), but I also applaud their attitude toward team-oriented support systems and pro-active rehabilitation for players who have had off-field issues.

(The argument about whether players should be allowed to take PEDs when we ask them to otherwise wreck their bodies by the time they’re 35 is a far more complicated conversation – there are arguments on both sides worth listening to, and a regulated industry might be safer in the long run than the illicit and more dangerous one that doesn’t care about side effects and will happen anyway.)

It’s interesting that the harshest penalties the league hands down to teams are due to videotaping another team’s signals, under-inflating footballs, and tampering with the negotiations of another team’s player (as the Jets are accused of this year).

It’s interesting because the lightest penalties the league hands to teams are in relation to off-field violence and domestic abuse. That seems incredibly backwards to me.

I wish we could see the same indignation leveled at both the league and teams over harboring domestic abusers that we see over a smushy football.

Covering over assaults and domestic abuse should have no part in this game, and if the league can’t continue improving its response to this, I will stop watching. Period.

Cheating the concussion protocol needs to stop being overlooked by the league, and start costing draft picks. That has to do with long-term physical and mental health.

But the rest of it? Spying? Under- and over-inflating footballs? Finding any competitive advantage without hurting anyone until you get caught? Couldn’t care less. That’s professional sports. If you’re going to be a fan, stop pretending you’re watching something pure. You’re watching millionaire players and billionaire owners using their considerable resources to find any competitive advantage they can. I’d say that’s what the game is today, but in many ways, it’s what the game always has been. It’s what every professional league became decades ago. Welcome to the ridiculous hypocrisy of being a sports fan.

But if you’re going to get angry over something, get angry over something that matters, that does hurt someone, that does change lives. There’s more than enough of that in the league for you to get angry about.

Regarding the NFL and Domestic Violence

NFL and Domestic Violence

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.

A More Bechdel Blog — How and Why We’re Doing It

Ida Lupino directing

One of my most recent friends is a woman in her early 20s, whose hair hangs over one side of her face because of a scar that runs from the corner of her mouth halfway to her ear. We avoided the topic when we first met, but you could recognize two people under there.

We’ve since discussed that scar, the result of an angry ex-boyfriend who hooked a knife behind her cheek and pulled. His reasoning, as best she came to terms with it, is that if he couldn’t have her, he’d ruin her so no one else would ever want to. Every man from then on would know he’d taken a piece of her that day, had left a territorial marker.

Even after they’d broken up, her future was his to decide. Easy as that. A hand on the head, a knife in the mouth, a flex of the elbow.

She knows her hair doesn’t hide the scar, but it at least communicates to people that she doesn’t want it to be a focal point. Uncover it and we stare, cover it back up and we get the message.

Uncover it, though, and everything’s tilted. Every smile and frown and word only takes place on the side of her face she’s habituated to using. The other side stays still, frozen, trained over the years never to draw attention to itself.

In that way, he did claim a part of her that day. It’s a terrifying idea, to go through life with whole sections of your body and psyche taken away.

When I asked her if I could write this, she asked me why.

Because one of my friends last month wrote that she was given a temporary set of densures, to replace the teeth broken out of her mouth. She said she wept when she looked in the mirror and saw herself with teeth again.

Both these women are strong. Both these women are intelligent. Both these women are extraordinarily kind, despite what’s happened to them. They aren’t victims, they’re damn role models.

I can fill pages with the stories I haven’t asked permission for yet, but they’re not mine to tell. They speak of women who live daily with the evidence that men left a mark they thought they had the right to make.

The truth is, as a man, it’s difficult to figure out the right way to speak out. We’re not brought up – no one’s brought up – to view domestic violence as a regular part of our cultural heritage. It’s the exception. Even those who suffer it view it as an exception. It’s not to be talked about because it’s not normal: that’s the myth.

Several days before my friend had her teeth kicked in, jaw broken, hands stabbed, in addition to dozens of other injuries she sustained, I wrote down this phrase: “Be angry. But don’t just be angry.”

I have no idea what prompted me to write that down or what it pertained to in my head. But now it seems to hold special significance to me, as if the universe just knew I’d need that phrase a few days later. Because I am angry, and I’ve been livid since that day. But I’ve been angry before, and I know it’s greedy and self-serving. It’s a way for me to deal with feeling like I wasn’t there to protect someone I care about. It’s not a way to support and help.

I’m glad we have a voice here. At the beginning of the year, this site might have reached a few dozen people. Now, it reaches thousands. In the big scheme of things, we’re still a very modest blog, but I don’t want to have the biggest film site. I want to have the biggest film site that does things right, that has a social conscience, and that looks at its job as primarily one of creating art, not of tearing it down.

We can’t change something systemic just by being angry. We have to embody the change we want to see, and hope our own example changes the example others set.

With that in mind, we are making some changes to the site.

Nora Ephron directing

The Creative Director

First and foremost, Vanessa Tottle will be our first Creative Director. She’s essentially been moving toward that position for several weeks already while we’ve tested new features. I have final edit, but the idea is that Vanessa will control the direction of the content itself. We’ll still be movie-focused, but articles will be more varied, and features more regular. She’s still getting her PhD and travels abroad regularly, but we’re all so terrified of incurring her wrath, I’m confident we’ll stay on task when she’s away.

We don’t intend to change the pre-existing flavor of anything we do, but we do want to add detail and better realize opportunities for talking about issues like domestic and sexual violence, more open communication, and feminism as a whole. These have a role in art and the media that are drastically underplayed at the moment. If we’re not critics of that, what are we critics of?

We now have a rotating, very-part time staff of six writers including Vanessa and myself who volunteer their time and effort. They are writers S.L. Fevre, Cleopatra Parnell, editor Eden O’Nuallain, and researcher Amanda Smith. This is in addition to more than 20 writers from whom we’ve featured exclusive content. More on our wonderful, newish staff in a later article, because I want to move onto the biggest format change:

Julie Taymor directing

More Bechdel

From now on, every new review posted on this site will have a critique based on the Bechdel Test added at the end. The Bechdel Test rates three simple fundamentals of a movie.

1. It has to have at least two women in it.

2. They have to talk to each other.

3. And that discussion has to be about something other than a man.

Those are fairly basic standards, and some films that pass the Bechdel Test still don’t present women in a good light. Sucker Punch, for instance. Similarly, some films that fail every step of the Bechdel Test feature superb female heroes. Just look at Gravity. The Bechdel Test is not an absolute; it is a tool of measure…so it won’t just be a straight yes/no to each of these questions. We’ll get into why and how each film does what it does.

We realize most people won’t make their viewing decisions based on the Bechdel Test, I often address the portrayal of women in my reviews without it, and there are already good resources for finding out if movies pass the test. It is our hope that visibly including the Bechdel Test at the end of every new review will serve as a reminder for how much work Hollywood still has to do. We also encounter that many still think of the Bechdel Test as a distasteful topic, as if somehow film is too much a creative act to be subject to reasonable social representation. We hope its inclusion will help to normalize the idea in people’s heads – not as some abstract talking point but rather as a useful and informative tool in how we assess film.

We won’t make a big deal of it after this – we don’t want to risk turning it into a gimmick. The review itself will still be the review. It’ll just have additional information for readers to consider.

Kathryn Bigelow directing

Realizing Opportunities for Change

We are also taking smaller steps, but hopefully these are no less impactful. For example:

When discussing music videos, we typically link the video and list its title, artist, and director. We’ve been frustrated that when choosing our top videos of the year, half-year, or month, most are directed by men.

This doesn’t mean they do a better job – our top video of 2013, Arcade Fire’s “Afterlife,” was directed by the phenomenally talented Emily Kai Bock, who notched three music videos on the countdown. Our top video for the first half of 2014, Sia’s “Chandelier” was co-directed (with Daniel Askill) by Sia herself.

Rather, it means that the industry – like filmmaking – is dominated by male directors. Vanessa and I made separate comments that inspired Amanda toward a bit of research. Lo and behold, she found that while the music videos we’ve sifted through (we watched more than 70 for August alone) are nearly all directed by men, the majority of producers are women.

For that reason, when we list a music video now, we will not only list the director, but also the producers. It makes sense – producers have the most important role after the artist and director. Most readers aren’t interested in who produces a music video – we realize that – but we hope highlighting the number of women involved in producing will help readers recognize the power and creativity women can and do wield in filmmaking of all kinds.

We were disappointed when we realized 90% of music video directors are men. We were overjoyed to find that about 60% of music video producers are women. While we realize there’s still a problem to be addressed in that disparity, we hope that readers, viewers, aspiring artists – men and women alike – will also notice that and feel that same joy. Perhaps, it will persuade someone down the road to buck the trend and hire a woman to direct.

This site’s been about melding criticism with social consciousness from Day One. These are the sorts of changes that don’t refocus what we do, but that let us better realize our goal of delivering a new brand of criticism, one that still tells you the basic “is this movie good or not,” but also seeks to make artistic and social statements of its own.

If there’s anything you notice we can do differently, or better, tell us. Thank you for reading.

The women in the photos throughout this article are directors who have each shown why we’d have a better entertainment industry if women had equal opportunity to direct. In order, they are: Ida Lupino, Nora Ephron, Julie Taymor, and Kathryn Bigelow.