This is a guest post from Dinah Douglas: Dinah Douglas works in non-profit communications by day and watches TV by night. Follow Dinah on Twitter: @dinahjd.
Every fall, if you put your ear to any AstroTurf in America, you can actually hear a faint,
repetitive moan of fooootbaaaallll… foooottbbaaaaalll. Like a tell-tale heartbeat, but more
We didn’t realize it, but that is why the NFL got everything to do with Ray Rice so wrong. That
is why the NFL is still talking around women, about women, down to women, at women… but
not to or with women. The past few months in sportsland have been a giant reminder that the
NFL pretty much just cares about women where its image and our money are involved.
I’m writing this while I watch the Baltimore Ravens the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Thursday
night football game. Ostensibly because I am a Ravens fan. It became harder to say that after
America’s new moral compass (TMZ) released a video of Ravens player Ray Rice dragging
his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator back in February. Then, one of my Facebook friends
just said, “Time to burn the jersey.” Seemed about right. My friends and I agreed then that the
Ravens had to drop Rice immediately. But my friends and I live in a bubble where domestic
violence is inexcusable, so it was easy to say.
We all know what happened next. In July, the two game suspension decision came down from
His Holiness, NFL Commissioner Most High, Roger Goodell. The outrage was palpable and
Goodell later said he “didn’t get it right” So the NFL changed their domestic violence policy – six games out for the first offense, a lifetime ban for the next.
Come September, a new video landed. The video we didn’t need to see, but was still the first
thing many people clicked on this past Monday. No amount of media desensitization to violence
kept me from feeling nauseated when I saw her head hit the railing in the elevator.
It only took a few hours for the Ravens to terminate Ray Rice’s contract. I say hours, but truly,
it took them months. Months during which they totally knew what had happened, because Ray
Rice told them.
A day after this Ray Rice thing blew up for real this time, Victoria’s Secret sent out an email
selling people on their PINK brand NFL “gear.” If there ever were a time to display your loyalty to an industry that could really do a better job showing how it values women, it is apparently right now. The email, nay, the industry, screams, Women! Buy the gear, lest you prove Chris Brown right!
This week, I was discussing it all with a co-worker. We work at an organization where domestic
violence prevention is a big part of what we do, and we were shaking our heads at how during
October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the players, cheerleaders and fans will be
wearing their team’s gear – but tinted pink, because October is also Breast Cancer Awareness
Month. Because the NFL cares about women, and their money. Because breast cancer has
become more comfy to talk about than domestic violence, clearly.
Save the ta-tas!
We care about you, women.
We need you to be fans, because as fans, you buy things.
Like underwear and fitted tees.
This isn’t about making two things that have been categorized as “women’s issues” compete for
attention, but it does point out a pretty gross priority for the league. (Merchandizing, in case that
Lady people, never you mind that smoking pot or taking steroids so far seems to be a
more serious offense in the view of the NFL than hitting a woman. Pay no attention to that man hitting a woman behind the curtain. Pay no attention to Ray McDonald or Greg Hardy. Pay no attention to the 21 of 32 NFL teams who just in 2013 had a player with a domestic or sexual violence charge against
Domestic violence isn’t a new problem – either in athletics, pop culture or the real world. But
handling it doesn’t have to be so tone deaf. The decision makers in the NFL and affiliated brands
could achieve sentience and use their position like CBS commentator James Brown did when he
said some good things before Thursday night’s game:
“…It starts with how we view women. Our language is important. For instance, when a guy
says, ‘you throw the ball like a girl’ or ‘you’re a little sissy,’ it reflects an attitude that devalues
women and attitudes will eventually manifest in some fashion. Women have been at the forefront
in the domestic violence awareness and prevention arena. And whether Janay Rice considers
herself a victim or not, millions of women in this country are.
Consider this: According to domestic violence experts, more than three women per day lose their lives at the hands of their partners. That means that since the night of February 15th in Atlantic City more than 600 women have died.”
I don’t know many female football fans who want to stop being fans. I do know many female
football fans who would love if it were easier to be a fan, if it felt better to support an institution,
and spend money doing so, because you knew that institution really didn’t think domestic
violence was excusable. And showed it.
Oh, one last thing. I’m not much for sports gear, but when the Ravens played in the Super Bowl,
I did try. I bought a men’s Ravens shirt because it was cheaper than all the options labeled for
Written by Dinah Douglas