I grew up in the Buddy Ryan era of Eagles football. Reggie White. Andre Waters. Jerome Brown. They never won anything—not even a playoff game—but they were a compilation of warriors who played with a leave-it-all-on-the-field mentality that was spellbinding to watch.
And I got hooked. Despite not really having a football family to explain the game to me, I became mesmerized by the explosiveness of the game, the change-on-a-dime nature that could turn a dismal Sunday into a memorable one in a matter of seconds.
While the NFL and its players have done plenty of things over the years to test my passion for the game that I (and millions of other football fans) find so intense and addicting, including attempting to downplay the dangers of the game related to concussions, this most recent episode with Baltimore Ravens star (and ex-pride of Rutgers) running back Ray Rice is making me question myself and the courage of my convictions.
On Monday, a video that shows Rice punching and knocking unconscious his then-fiancé (now his wife) inside an elevator at the Revel in Atlantic City, N.J. was posted on TMZ. The Ravens and the NFL already knew about the incident, for which he was arrested at the time, and he received a paltry two-game suspension for the offense in July. At the time, many criticized this suspension as too lenient, especially when compared to the usual four-game suspension handed down by the league for violating its substance abuse policy. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell himself seemed to believe he got it wrong, sending a letter to all 32 teams just over a week ago announcing a new—stronger—domestic violence policy, which comes with a six-game suspension for a first-time offense. “My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families,” Goodell wrote. “I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”
Then, yesterday, after the video was posted and the twittersphere began to blow up, the Ravens cut Rice, and the coach, John Harbaugh, gave a statement saying the new video caused them to re-think their initial decision to keep him on the team. In his own words: “It’s something we saw for the first time today,” Harbaugh said. “It changed things of course. It made things a little bit different.”
Then Harbaugh went on to talk about how excited he was for next week’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Vice President Biden was slated to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act today, but it’s hard to feel good about that when the pastime I love and support with my hard-earned dollars and time treats violence against women with such little regard.
According to statistician Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight website, the rate of domestic violence arrests of NFL players is low compared to the American public, but when writer Benjamin Morris scrutinized the numbers more closely, he noted that “domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to our estimated 21 percent nationally.” Morris ended his column by saying, “If the NFL is capable of reducing any harm its players are causing—whether through harsher suspensions or other policies targeting behavior—it may have a legal (or at least moral) duty to do so.”
This is especially true because the NFL has spent the past several years trying to woo women. While it’s easily the most watched American sport with the highest ratings and the biggest fan base, the NFL knows nearly half of the country—most women—don’t particularly care about their sport. So it has made a concerted effort in recent years—dressing its players in pink for breast cancer awareness and advertising in Vogue magazine—to signal to women that they should give football another look.
But as a female football fan and the mother of two boys, it feels hypocritical—and antithetical to what I purport to be about—to support a corporation that doesn’t prioritize violence against women over rushing yards and touchdowns. At this stage in my life, I think it’s not enough for me to deplore the actions of a company, politician, or brand. I have to show it with my actions and my money.
Maybe Goodell’s new-and-improved domestic violence policy will prove to be more effective and will send the message to players that you can’t drag your unconscious wife out of an elevator by her hair, but I need to see it. And the NFL will have its chance very soon.
Ray McDonald, a defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers, was arrested and charged with felony domestic violence just days after the new policy was announced, and he played in Sunday’s season opener against the Dallas Cowboys. But without a conviction or video evidence as was present in Rice’s case, the NFL will likely sit tight.
So I guess the question is, should I?