This week, the NFL issued a pitiful 2-game suspension against Ray Rice, the Ravens running back who earlier this year punched out his then-fiancee Janay Palmer and was seen on surveillance tape dragging her unconscious body out of a hotel elevator. Many critics responded by saying the NFL was sending a terrible message about the severity of domestic violence, about the value of women. And they're right — but they shouldn't be surprised. The NFL has never given a shit about women.
Most people with half a brain and a little human empathy recognized the fuckery inherent in the NFL's appallingly tone deaf punishment, and its appallingly dumb meathead defense of said punishment. The league is made up of, governed by, and boosted by people who very publicly think very little of women.
In a rant that, if not described as "epic" could only be described as "Olbermann-ian," Keith Olbermann unleashed against the implied misogyny in Rice's 2-game suspension as the culmination of years of sexism from the League and its supporters.
The message to the women who the league claims constitute 50% of its fan base is simple: the NFL wants your money. It will do nothing else for you. It will tolerate those who abuse you verbally and those who abuse you physically. And its elder statesmen will talk about the media distractions that could ensue because one of the NFL's gay active players has finally self-identified without saying a word about the media distractions that could ensue because a star player has knocked out his wife and gotten only 2/5ths the punishment another player got for giving an opponent a 30-stitch cut during a game.
CBS's Gregg Doyal didn't mince words, either. In a piece that accused NFL commissioner Roger Goodell of "failing brutally," he writes, "This is strange bordering on stupid bordering on you've got to be kidding me. Two games? For that?" Opinionators in every venue from the Huffington Post to ESPN to the US Senate were gobsmacked that the NFL's leadership, in issuing a 2 game suspension for a guy who knocked out his wife when much more severe penalties had been levied against players who took illegal diuretics, smoked pot, used illegal fertility drugs in attempting to conceive a child with their partner, or inflicted injuries against other players during gameplay.
What happened this week was some piping hot bullshit, sure, but anyone who was shocked by the NFL's leniency toward a domestic abuser is naive, forgetful, or not paying attention.
Throughout its nearly hundred years of existence, the NFL has had countless opportunities to prove that it valued women as human beings, as anything more than a less-than-tapped market. And every single time, it has failed spectacularly.
As ESPNW's Jane McManus notes, the NFL has a long and unfortunate history of producing domestic abusers and/or sheltering domestic abusers from repercussion that extends well beyond Ray Rice. McManus notes that former Redskins player Fred Davis has just been slapped with some shiny new domestic assault allegations, and Panthers player Greg Hardy also faces similar charges. In fact, just yesterday, the Panthers issued a statement indicating that they were "very disappointed" in Hardy, but he won't be disciplined for allegedly threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend earlier this year. Current Arizona Cardinals player Daryl Washington is on one year of legal probation for restraining and breaking the collar bone of the mother of his child (he's been suspended for the entirety of the 2014 season, but for substance abuse-related violations). The Minnesota Vikings' AJ Jefferson has also recently faced arrest over domestic violence.
Former NFL'er Chris Terry allegedly "slammed his wife into a wall, head-butted her and stuffed her face into a pillow" in front of the couple's kids. Ex Miami Dolphin Gene Atkins punched a police officer in the throat and had to be subdued with a taser when authorities responded to a domestic disturbance call at his house.
If we want to take a look back further than the current season and beyond instances of domestic violence, there's a metric shitload of depressing cases involving NFL players and violence against women. Cecil Collins was arrested after breaking into the home of a married woman he knew from his gym to "watch her sleep." Five-time pro-bowler Darren Sharper is currently awaiting trial for drugging and raping a California woman, which is only one of several rapes across several states Sharper allegedly committed. Former Oakland Raiders defensive end Darrell Russell used a similar MO, except he and two friends recorded it. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has faced two serious public accusations of luring women into private, enclosed spaces with him and then raping them.
In late 2012, Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and then killed himself. After that crime, Slate's Justin Peters analyzed NFL player crime statistics and found that 21 of the League's 32 teams had employed someone who had been formally charged with sexual or domestic violence on their roster during the League's most recent season.
Not only does the NFL not care about what its players do to the women in their lives, the league does not give a lightly toasted poppyseed fuck about the women in its employ. Teams treat their cheerleaders like second class pieces of meat, beheld to impossibly retro beauty standards and paid laughably sub-minimum wage for a huge amount of commitment and work. And who can forget how ridiculously wrist-slappy a punishment was doled out to football legend Bret Favre after he sexted unsolicited dick pics to then-Jets employee Jenn Sterger? (And, related: who wishes they could scrub from their memory the sight of Bret Favre's weird penis?)
The NFL doesn't have a "domestic violence problem," or a "rape problem." It has a misogyny problem.
Misogyny isn't only endemic to a certain subset of NFL players and owners singled out by McManus and Doyal et al; it's something exhibited by a disturbing number of football media folk and fans as well. Witness this morning's embarrassment on ESPN, when Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless had a long, thoughtful discussion about how women can do a better job not getting beat up by NFL players, a segment that prompted fellow ESPN commentator Michelle Beadle to Tweet, "So I was just forced to watch this morning's First Take. A) I'll never feel clean again B) I'm now aware that I can provoke my own beating." Stephen A. Smith later clarified that he was hurt, really hurt, right in the feelings. It was like his feelings had been punched in the face by an NFL player and then dragged, unconscious out of an elevator. Witness the outpouring of support from Baltimore Ravens fans who are super stoked that some pesky woman-punching won't keep their favorite guy off the field. Witness the tone deaf idiocy of Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who called Rice a guy who had "made a mistake." A "mistake" as in "oopsie-daisy! I knocked my wife out via a punch to the face!"
Rest assured, ladies, that the NFL would love it if you believed they gave a shit. They spend millions every October on pink crap designed to fool you into thinking they give a shit. There's a myriad of problems with the NFL's garish, ludicrous "Breast Cancer Awareness" month, the least of which is that the program serves as a smokescreen for all the ways the League has wronged and continues to wrong women (the biggest problem: it does much more for the league's bottom line than it does for cancer research). If they actually cared about women with breast cancer, they wouldn't have quietly tossed former Buccaneers cheerleader Bobbie Shay Lee on her ass when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 25. And they'd donate more than a tiny percentage of the money they make to, you know, actual breast cancer research. We're all plenty "aware" of breast cancer.
With the minuscule suspension of Ray Rice, the League has, once again, waved its proverbial middle finger in the faces of female fans. It's well past the time that women stop willfully ignoring the messages the NFL and the NFL's most enthusiastic boosters keeps sending us — we don't matter, we're not people, we are responsible for preventing our own beatings, we lie, we only care about clothes — and start fucking listening. The NFL does not care about women. And it's time for women, and male NFL fans who give a shit about women, to pay the League back in kind.