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The Superbowl

Posted by A birch tree on May 26, 2008

So I had an argument with my wife, Ari, recently about the Superbowl, or, more specifically, American Football (and, thematically, professional sports in general). She refuses to watch it, and told me that supporting it was supporting a misogynist industry and therefore was an un-feminist act due to the way the players treat women, and the way the league treats said players.

I disagreed (ok, that’s putting a certain spin on it… I suppose I actually got pissed off and defensive and turned what could have been a genteel discussion into an absurd argument), mostly on the grounds of “But I like it!” backed up with “I have no knowledge of any of the things of which you speak”.

And men consider themselves to be the “logical” gender. Riiiiight.

Well, ignorance is no excuse. I was wrong. And, as is the right and proper thing to do when one does something hideously stupid and realizes one was wrong about it, I’m making a public apology. I’m sorry, Ari.

Beyond that, I’m sharing with others exactly what I was wrong about, and how I was wrong about it, so maybe they can avoid doing or saying the same stupid shit that I did.

***

So, guys, here’s what I found out.

I typed “NFL Rape” into google, and, in a turn of events that will probably shock no one, came up with some 470k hits. I’ve compiled a few facts here, with citations. Note that while I’m still using endnotes, the HTML format that the Fact Dump is in, with linked superscript numbers referring down to the specific footnote at the bottom of the page, was way, way too cumbersome for me to ever want to repeat.

21 percent of NFL players — more than one in five — have been charged with at least one serious crime. The docket begins with assault, rape, and domestic violence and keeps spiraling out of control.1

Atlanta Falcons defensive back Patrick Bates was charged with assaulting his pregnant girlfriend and, three weeks after the baby was born, kidnapping the child and beating the mother with a gun. Bates finally was let go by the Falcons, pleaded guilty to reduced charges and was signed by the Oakland Raiders.1

Falcons all-pro linebacker Cornelius Bennett was charged with rape, sodomy, sexual abuse and unlawful imprisonment. Bennett pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct and was sentenced to 60 days in jail. He was neither released by the Falcons nor fined by the NFL.1

Forty-four cheerleaders formerly employed by the Philadelphia Eagles have filed suit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court claiming opposing teams spied upon them while the women changed and showered in the cheerleaders’ locker room.2

In July 2003, Dwayne Carswell, a Denver Broncos football player, was arrested in Atlanta for assaulting his girlfriend, Nkeiruka Anyamone, reported the Associated Press. Carswell was charged with simple battery, domestic violence and obstruction of an officer.4

That athletes are treated differently in the criminal-justice system doesn’t help, notes [Ed Tapscott, vice president of the New York Knicks]. “When Joe Sixpack abuses his wife, he must go through the criminal-justice system,” he says. “But when Joe Athlete does, he is treated royally. Not only that, when he goes out and scores three touchdowns or 32 points, the acclaim of his accomplishments restores very quickly any self-esteem he lost by beating the woman.”4

(Got to love that last little bit, don’t ya? This guy believes men who beat their wives lose self-esteem from it? And then refers to said victims as “the woman”? Jesus Christ on a pogo stick.)

The list goes on and on. But, hey, a spot of light! My team, the team that I’ve been a fan of since I was a child, apparently has a better policy:

So far, only New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has taken a stand against employing players with criminal records. In the fifth round of the 1996 NFL draft, the Patriots picked Nebraska defensive lineman Christian Peter, who had been arrested eight times (and convicted four times) during college for a variety of offenses, including the assault of a former Miss Nebraska and the rape of another woman. When Peter’s past came to light, Kraft cut the player before he was even offered a contract. “We concluded this behavior is incompatible with our organization’s standards of acceptable conduct” said Kraft. 1

Great! So I can still watch when New England plays and not be engaging in the support of misogyny…. well, if they’re the only team on the field, anyway. Tip: The advertisers and the players whose salary I am helping to pay don’t give two shits who I’m rooting for.

Oh, and also only if they’re not playing in the Superbowl:

Workers at women’s shelters, and some journalists, have long reported that Super Bowl Sunday is one of the year’s worst days for violence against women in the home.3

“Well, there’s always college football…” I thought while googling, desperately trying to hold on to an entertainment venue that I knew, inside, would turn out to be pretty much irredeemable once I scratched the surface.

And I was right:

At least one recent study reinforced the connection between athletes and domestic violence. Researchers at Northeastern and the University of Massachusetts reviewed 107 cases of sexual assault at 30 Division I schools between 1991 and 1993. They found that male student-athletes, compared with the rest of the male student population, “are responsible for a significantly higher percentage of assaults reported on the campuses of Division I institutions.” Although male athletes at 10 of those schools made up only 3.3 percent of the population, they were involved in 19 percent of the reported assaults.4

An appeals court revived a lawsuit by two women who claim they were gang raped at a University of Colorado recruiting party in 2001, ruling there is evidence the alleged assaults were caused by the university’s failure to adequately supervise players. The ruling by the 10th United States Circuit Court of Appeals, which sends the case back to the trial court, said there was evidence the university had an official policy of showing high school recruits a “good time” and that it showed a “deliberate indifference” to any known sexual harassment.5

There are coverups and criminals aplenty in the college atheletics scene, which makes sense, really, given that it’s the same place pro teams get their players from.

Of course, an argument can always be made that out of the many thousands of men who have played professional football, only a handful have committed horrible crimes, and why am I still watching anything else on TV, or buying Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, or whatever, if someone can show that a few people associated have raped or beaten women? Mostly, I think, it’s a combination of factors.

  1. A guy who works for Ben & Jerry’s isn’t making a 5-7 figure salary
  2. The NFL and all of its teams has turned a blind eye to the entire affair, since these players can make them a ton of money

It’d be a different thing if the NFL was busy firing people who had been convincted of violent crimes, like just about any other occupation in the world would do. If the Ben & Jerry’s CEO was convicted of rape or domestic violence, I’m fairly sure his resignation would follow shortly. While the individual action is the same, the theme presented by how the NFL responds to those actions seems to be one of coverup and general apathy. And that is why I can no longer support that industry, and that is why I encourage all men who care about women to change the channel away from NFL games, or NBA games, or MLB games, because all the major sports in America seem to grok to the same theme: “We don’t care how our players treat women, because they make us money.”

It gets especially rotten when you get to hear what the owners think:

Ed Tapscott, New York Knicks vice president of administration and scouting, says that some athletes have difficulty making the transition from field to home. “An interesting comparison is to Vietnam vets who one day were in this survival mode, then the next day were given their walking papers,” he says. “What are athletic games if not war?[…]”4

I don’t even know how to respond to that, as a member of the US Military. I cannot even begin to imagine how being in war is in any way comparable to playing in a competitive athletic event, and furthermore, I can even less begin to imagine how either war or sporting events somehow make rape and domestic abuse acceptable or even remotely understandable. They aren’t out there punching and raping other men, dudes. Apparently, in their adrenaline-fueled fury, they are still cognizant enough to focus that rage only onto a target that can’t or won’t hurt them back. That doesn’t sound like “heat of the moment”, even if “heat of the moment” can in any possible way be mangled into an excuse; it sounds like premeditation.

And then there’s a heavy dose of victim blaming, in this case under the guise of “It’s all womens’ fault anyway, for expecting us to take responsibility for our actions”:

Violence also might be a backlash against the women’s movement, which has made great strides in promoting female independence during the past 25 years. “Men need sports in order to bolster a dying form of masculinity,” writes Mariah Burton Nelson in her 1994 book, The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football. “Men are very emotional about sports. They are cheering for a type of violence.”4

That last line is what really got me though. When I watch football, I am cheering for violence. Not only on the field, but off the field, against their wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, and random strangers they’ve never met before. Isn’t there enough violence out there without me supporting more of it?

So guys, let’s do this together. Write the NFL, tell them why you can no longer support their product, and let’s change the channel to something less thematically nasty against women. I mean, hell, most of us probably only ever got into it to start with just so we could feel masculine and “with it” when standing around the water cooler at the office or in the warehouse. When you really think about it, the whole concept is pretty dumb, especially when enjoying it involves ignoring the very real danger and pain supporting that industry can help put very real women into.

-a birch tree

References

  1. NFL’s Tarnished Heroes – Don Yaeger, in his book ‘Pros andCons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL,’ claims that 21% of the players in the National Football League have been charged with one or more serious crimes – Brief Article
  2. Former Eagles Cheerleaders Expand Lawsuit Against NFL Teams; Players, Coaches and Owners of 29 Teams May be Deposed to Determine If They Watched Cheerleaders Change and Shower.
  3. Does Domestic Violence Increase on Super Bowl Sunday?
  4. Illegal hits off the field – athletes and domestic violence
  5. College Football: Colorado Rape Lawsuit Is Revived
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