You want us to buy what?: Reflections on Ray Rice, Domestic Violence and The Expectation of Female Consumerism

rr shirt

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

wasn’t clear.)

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

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