NFL’s response to Rice upsets
Over the past few weeks, the NFL has revealed how truly out of touch the league office is with the world outside of football. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went on a rampage of four-game PED suspensions, taking a quarter of a season away from around 20 players who may have been trying to gain a physical edge in an extremely physical sport. 2013’s breakout star, Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver Josh Gordon received a full season suspension for failing a marijuana test so narrowly that military guidelines would have let him walk.
Yet, of the 38 players suspended, the shortest suspension somehow belonged to Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice, who was caught on video dragging his then-fiancée’s unconscious body from a casino elevator in Atlantic City.
On Monday, after a new, disturbing video was released on TMZ and subsequently played on an endless loop on ESPN, MSNBC, and other networks who have no problem exploiting this situation for viewers, the NFL suspended Ray Rice indefinitely and his contract with the Baltimore Ravens was terminated.
However, the league’s delayed drop of the hammer masks a far more disturbing timeline.
The release of the first video was regarded with widespread and justified outrage. The league has a history of protecting domestic abusers on the grounds that they did not have enough evidence to make a decision.
But this was clear, visible proof that a player had physically assaulted a woman in public.
The NFL would have to act swiftly and forcefully and send the message that the NFL does not stand for violence against women.
After weeks of waiting on litigation to run its course, the NFL’s initial judgment was that a two-game suspension was appropriate.
Everyone watching was in shock. Many, including ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, claimed Goodell should resign after the embarrassingly weak response.
A large portion of football’s fan base, on the other hand, had the opposite reaction.
A look at the comments on ESPN articles and online football forums reveal that many in the football community were appalled that the league acted at all.
A subset of football fans lamented the emasculation of society and wondered what they had left once football was taken away.
Football has always been regarded as something of a violent fantasy land, where super humans in helmets destroy each other and manifest systems of physical dominance, and the heroes are the “manliest,” those who impose themselves with the most force and brutality.
For football to condemn violence against women, for many fans, was the last bastion of male power and unadulterated aggression finally softening up under the weight of the political correctness movement. Worse, they blamed Rice’s then-fiancée for provoking him and causing him to lose games and, as a result, money.
This mentality is terrifying. As much as people love the old cliché that it’s “just a game,” the NFL is a viewing experience in which we get to see the personal decisions each individual makes and the extreme ramifications that each choice has.
A momentary lapse or mistake could be worth millions of dollars for a player, or at an emotional level, could make a player feel publicly humiliated.
The fact that fans brush football off as just a game and desire for players to be given either more or less freedom than any other American citizen reveals a very unsettling culture among football fans. Brian Phillips, a staffwriter for the blog Grantland, wrote an excellent article about that particular point.
This becomes even scarier when fans want the people around NFL players to suffer as well.
These are real people who do not live in an alternate universe where imposing pain on other humans is a good thing. Rice viciously assaulted his then-fiancée and now, thanks to the TMZ video, everyone has seen the haunting incident with their own eyes.
A huge portion of the community of fans rallied to defend Rice from his two-game suspension, and the message was loud and clear. NFL: Not For Ladies.
Many who populate online NFL forums determined that, by being near a football player, a woman was subjecting herself to the violent fantasies of NFL fans and her mere existence in the center of this —which was entirely not her fault or what she wanted — made her an enemy of manliness in American culture, depicted in the boundless violence of the NFL.
This is not even the first time this happened. Decades ago, Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, a very charismatic and popular player like Ray Rice, was accused of sexual assault, and later of throwing a woman from a balcony. The NFL defended him, and they have defended employees who have committed violent acts against women ever since. The unsettling precedent shows just how deep this problem runs in the NFL.
As previously mentioned, the more complete and disturbing images of Rice have forced the NFL’s hand. The NFL has instituted a new and somewhat harsher domestic violence policy, but the damage has been done.
The NFL proved it was only willing to act on domestic violence when it became a major national story.
A loud subset of fans proved that violence — not athletic prowess — is at the heart of America’s love for football and that such a culture lends itself to bitter misogyny.
Carolina Panthers’ defensive end Greg Hardy was convicted of throwing his girlfriend on a pile of guns while threatening to kill her. San Francisco 49ers’ defensive end Ray McDonald was recently arrested for domestic violence. Hardy is playing while his appeal is reviewed. McDonald is playing until his trial occurs.
This problem is only coming to light now, but it’s clearly not going away any time soon. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep supporting this league’s product.