It's been well-established that NFL leadership doesn't give a shit about women, but with newly-released footage of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee in the face prior to being gently wrist-slapped with a two-game suspension, one has to wonder: do NFL fans give a shit about women?
Of course there was outcry after Rice's suspension went down. I spent most of my life a sports fan surrounded by sports fans; I chose to attend college at a football school and come from a family of jocks. Almost everyone I know who is on Facebook and Twitter was fucking livid about how callous the NFL was in issuing punishment to Rice, and, in a more general sense, the NFL's pathetic history of ignoring or minimizing the seriousness of violence against women. Most of my friends and family don't fancy themselves to be assholes. Most of them actively try to be good, conscientious people who don't actively support blatantly socially destructive organizations, if they can help it.
Other people who seem interested in being decent people outside of my circle of friends and family also weighed in on the NFL's atrocious handling of the Rice suspension. TV hosts issued harsh reprimands to the suspension, thinkpieces pointed out that the NFL has a long and troubling history with domestic violence issues. People in positions of power, with audiences who ostensibly watch them because they prefer their punditry with a conscience, openly mused about how maybe the League is bad, and how Things Must Change.
But yesterday, many of the same people who were outraged about Rice back in May were posting social media update after grateful update that the bestest, funnest, sport in the world — NFL football, babyyyyy! — was finally back. And the ones who weren't celebratory were still watching, still pulling for their team, still swapping stats and real and virtual high fives and Surrender Cobras and general sporty giddiness.
Why in the hell would the NFL change a thing about the way it disciplines its players if no matter what the League does, its harshest critics will continue to give the sport their eyeballs, money, and attention? If the Ray Rice incident didn't dent the NFL's ratings, sales, or audience, if seriously fucked up behavior by League leadership doesn't have any consequences to their bottom line, then what was the Ray Rice outcry to NFL leadership but temporarily annoying publicity?
I'm assuming here that most people who were outraged — OUTRAGED! — by the NFL's leniency on Ray Rice and others have at least a passing familiarity with how capitalism works. When you pay for an officially-licensed product, or a ticket to an event, or contribute to the audience of a game so that the entity behind the game can charge advertisers more money to advertise products during the game, you are contributing to the entity behind the event or license in a monetary way, even if you feel kind of bad about it when you're doing it. Advertisers can't tell the difference between hatewatchers and regular watchers. A ticket or merchandise sale to a morally conflicted fan generates the same revenue for the League than one from a fan who thinks punching women is just fine and dandy, that it's totally cool that NFL brass had seen the video before handing down a 2-game suspension, and that this Tweet, sent out by the Baltimore Ravens' official Twitter account, isn't at all fucked up.
But if you consider yourself a moral consumer who cares about equality, there is no excuse for continuing to be a fan of the NFL. "Not all NFL players!" is not an excuse when leadership is rotten from the top down. "But I'm barely contributing anything bad!" is as valid an excuse for continuing to support the NFL as it is for littering. No matter how fun it is, how thrilling, if you're a person who claims to care about women, watching the NFL is morally indefensible until something changes. No one can be perfectly morally consistent at all times or completely ethical in everything they consume (that would be exhausting), but this one seems like a gimme.
If you won't eat at Chik-fil-A because the company's leadership doesn't support gay marriage (because you believe in equality!) but you still watch NFL football after its leadership made it clear for the millionth time that it shelters and supports domestic abusers, you are a fucking hypocrite.
If you wouldn't think of buying a ticket to a Chris Brown concert because of his history of violence and abuse but you still watch NFL football, you are a fucking hypocrite.
If you buy cage-free eggs because you're against cruelty but you won't stop watching the NFL, a league with a documented history of turning a blind eye to cruelty to human beings, you are a fucking hypocrite.
If you couldn't possibly imagine ever paying to watch a Mike Tyson or Floyd Mayweather fight because of their egregious histories of violence against women, but you still watch the NFL, you are a fucking hypocrite.
If you hated Two and a Half Men before it was cool because Charlie Sheen is a piece of shit domestic abuser but you still watch the NFL, you are a fucking hypocrite.
If you wouldn't buy a ticket to a Roman Polanski film festival because you couldn't imagine supporting a person with his history but you are still supporting the NFL, you are a fucking hypocrite.
If you considered boycotting pasta maker Barilla after its CEO made some homophobic comments because you are a staunch believer in human rights but you will not abandon your NFL fandom because ugh it's just so fun, you are a fucking hypocrite.
If you won't buy your groceries from Eden Foods or your craft supplies from Hobby Lobby because the CEOs don't want to provide insurance to female employees that covers contraception because you support equality for women, but you still support the NFL, you are a fucking hypocrite.
I realize that letting go of fandom is hard (hell, I was a football fan for most of my life, and I still have stress dreams about Gary Anderson sometimes and I long for the days when I didn't know enough about the League to be morally conflicted). But if all you're doing in response to the NFL's tone deaf attitude toward violence against women is complain about it without changing your behavior as a consumer, then your complaints only serve to paint yourself as a person who appears to care.
Without actions to back them up, moral declarations are just as empty and self-serving as an NFL press release.