The Tarnishing of the NFL Shield
September 22, 2014 at 12:27 am
So, @COVERGIRL is the #NFL's "Official Beauty Sponsor." Tell them #GoodellMustGo pic.twitter.com/g3LDd1vfly
— Adele M. Stan (@AddieStan) September 12, 2014
I have a couple of confessions to make.
The first: That I am a football girl.
I grew up watching the National Football League, in Canada, a country that is hockey over everything. Before pink jerseys and female football blogs. Before NFL Sunday Ticket to watch something other than Buffalo Bills games. When I had to defend that my fandom was more about the tight tights. I created an event to teach some of my girl friends about the sport that I love. My son is a presumed Eagles fan until he can choose for himself.
The second confession – I don’t know if I can be a fan anymore.
The NFL prides itself on protecting the shield. Keeping it’s nose clean of other sport leagues problems. Or at least doing a better job of brushing it under the rug.
The shield started to crack a little, when startling statistics came to light in regards to the health of our childhood football heroes. The sport that we love, the hits we’d cheer for had long-term physical, mental and emotional consequences. And even worse, the league was turning a blind eye to its veterans the same way the country does to it’s military ones. It took a long time and court-ordered mediation, but they eventually came to a settlement. 765 million dollars. Ordinarily, this would be an astronomical figure – except, in 2013, the revenue for the tax-exempt, non-profit NFL would be 9 billion. Less than 1% to the players that helped make the league become the behemoth that it is today.
It’s easy to dismiss those players. They aren’t in the public limelight, they don’t have shoe endorsements, or are showing up on covers of sports magazines in all their chiseled glory. Maybe they are just jealous of the massive 100 million dollar contracts being doled out. Of being on the outside.
The settlement likely won’t cover current players – and considering the shelf life of the average football player – is it any wonder that players try to get as much from a league that takes just as much as it gives? In 2011, the NFL narrowly averted a lockout, coming to an agreement just weeks before the season.
Despite all that, I and many others pressed on with their loyalty. (Who says these girls ain’t loyal?) The biggest entertainer in the world performed at halftime of the SuperBowl. Fantasy Football went from something just the hard-core nerdy fans did, to becoming part of the mainstream lexicon. ESPN makes models out of athletes. Apps keep people connected to the game. NFL network breaks down every possible minutiae of the league 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Fast forward to April 2014.
By now we all know the story and timeline of Ray Rice and his wife Janay. TMZ released post-elevator (what’s with elevators in 2014??) footage of his then-fiancee being dragged while clearly unconscious. He received both a slap on the wrist both legally and financially (2 game suspension). People were outraged at such a lenient punishment.
And then tape part two came out – and everything went all the way left. When the league was gearing up for the first games for the season, they found themselves the talk of every possible news source and social network. And for all the wrong reasons.
The thing is – this isn’t the NFL’s first problem with off-the-field violence.
In 1995, Former Hall of Fame running back OJ Simpson was acquitted in the murder of his ex-wife and her boyfriend. He maintains his innocence to this day.
In 1999, Rae Carruth, wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, shot and killed his pregnant girlfriend for refusing to abort the baby. The baby lived.
Leonard Little, ran a red light and killed a mother in another vehicle.
In 2007, Sean Taylor’s life was cut short when intruders broke into his home and shot and killed him. He was 24.
In 2009, Donte Stallworth, struck and killed a pedestrian while driving under the influence. He was suspended for the entire season without pay.
In 2012, Jovan Belcher, shot his girlfriend and killed himself.
Last summer, current Carolina Panther Greg Hardy was convicted of assaulting and threatening to kill his girlfriend. He was not suspended by the league or even his team until this past Sunday, only doing so because of the current climate against the NFL and their stance on domestic violence. One would think the Panthers would take such things a little more seriously. Greg, much like Darren Wilson of the Ferguson PD, is also on paid leave.
Former NFL star, Darren Sharper is currently under suspicion in FIVE different states with accusations of drugging and raping women.
These famous cases aside, the NFL isn’t full of thugs and criminals as it may seem. The spotlight on them due to their profession. Overall, they are in-line with what society does at large, but domestic violence is a problem.
But, these off-the-field violent situations are becoming harder to ignore. When everyone from the President, 16 women US Senators, and even Anheuser-Busch weigh in on the matter, it shows that it’s bigger than just 1 player, 1 family and 1 team. It matters to many and it should matter to most.
When violence happens behind closed doors – it can affect us all. These players won’t play the game forever. They will eventually be citizens among us. They will date us. They will have daughters. They will have sons who may mirror their behaviour. At some point, the money can’t be enough. Enough has to be enough.
Over the past few years, the rules of the game have changed significantly. There are rules to protect players when they are most vulnerable. There are rules against hitting players in certain places and in certain ways. To play in the National Football League is a privilege. One afforded to very few and for a short amount of time if one is lucky. Like any company that holds it’s employees to basic conduct standards, the shield has protect the players on the field. Players should be held accountable for hitting vulnerable people off the field as well.
Sports has long been the means to escape real life. When real life infiltrates our safe spaces, it makes us uncomfortable. Or sometimes angry. But we must confront it. Challenge it. Change. Or at least we should.
Despite the recent tide of hurt, frustration, disgust, pain and anger – I’ll continue to watch. Most of us will. It’s currently considered a guilty pleasure. I am part of the problem, instead of being part of the solution. The truth hurts – but it’s the truth.
This is my third confession.
I’ll watch because there are more good players than bad ones. Because sometimes teams DO get things right. Because my love of the game runs deep and is a part of me, my family and my life.
If one good thing has come out of this, is the national discussion about domestic violence. How it works. Why women stay. The risk. The stats. There’s never a good time to talk about domestic violence. James Brown used his platform before a game to deliver his message.
Some say it wasn’t the right time.
But now it shall be.
What do you think? Is the NFL taking the right steps, or is it all a farce? For more on sports, sex, social issues and everything in between, follow me @Amy on Twitter and don’t forget to sign up for our email list!