Not About the Game
I am a sports fan and I probably will be until the day I die but there are times I wonder why. Sometimes, I wonder why I care about whether spoiled soon-to-be-millionaire college athletes win or lose just because they wear the name of the university where I got my graduate degree on their shirts. I watch unsportsmanlike behavior on the field and unseemly behavior off the field by young men who have been treated like stars since junior high. I see boorish behavior in the stands by fans and over-the-top taunting of opponents on internet message boards and sports websites. I listen to sports talk bozos who sound like overgrown adolescents with opinions to match. I wonder, Do I really want to be associated with these people? I get to see men who are making millions for playing a freaking game sound and act like hoodlums on and off the field and wonder, Why do we deify these people?
This week we’ve seen emerging stories about two NFL running backs, one of whom is a wife beater, the other a child abuser. These are hardly the first time these subjects have come up, inside or outside of sports. According to clarkprosecutor.org, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury in women from 15 to 44 in the U.S. and 3 to 4 million women are beaten in their homes by husbands, ex-husbands and male lovers. Safehorizon.org says that 1 in 10 children suffer from maltreatment with 45% of the abused children under 5. So, why the commotion over these latest cases? In the case of Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens, we had a video of the 200 pound running back knocking his then girlfriend unconscious in an elevator, then dragging her like a sack of potatoes into the hotel hall. Then, one of the most likeable players in the NFL, star running back Adrian Petersen of the Minnesota Vikings was accused of giving a whupping to his four year old son with a switch (a tree branch to those of us not into whuppings), accompanied by photos of the son’s injuries.
Subsequently, we were treated to the NFL suspension of Rice for two games, at least until the video emerged, at which time the suspension was made indefinite, even though the commissioner, Roger Goodell, seems to have known the exact nature of Rice’s assault from the start. The Vikings suspended Petersen for one game then reinstated him, but decided to place him on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List (meaning he’s payed but can’t play) indefinitely once the sponsors began to retreat from the league. Janay Palmer, the woman Rice slugged (and who subsequently married him) took to social media to explain that the media is responsible for her husband’s problems, and when the Ravens played on Thursday Night Football, many fans (including women) showed up in Ray Rice jerseys, saying that everyone deserves a second chance. A surprising number of comments in the media talked about the cultural roots of whuppings and wondered if such discipline leads to better kids. In a poll of the fifty United States, people in all but four favored Petersen’s reinstatement, suggesting that the league should wait for due process on the case before doing anything. I wonder how the poll would go if Rice was a postman and Petersen a mechanic at the local Honda dealer.
It’s more than unfortunate that most of the discussion has been about the integrity of the NFL and whether the commissioner acted appropriately and what he knew when. It is indeed sad that the teams and the league changed their tune only when action groups like the National Organization for Women began to speak out and sponsors threatened taking their money elsewhere, but sadder is that the discussions are mostly about the game of football. This makes it pretty clear to me that we have more tolerance of domestic violence and child abuse than we should. It points out again that we are willing to look away from transgressors … particularly famous ones … until graphic evidence makes it impossible for us to shield our eyes. To my mind, nobody deserves a second chance after such acts. Our legal system provides for leniency in first offenses and second chances after appropriate consequences. And often, women offer their abuser a second chance, a decision that leads to a recurrence about 37% of the time. The fact that the offenders in these cases are world class athletes known for their strength makes their actions more heinous. But this is not about players and Not About the Game. It’s about 1 in 4 women and 1 in ten children being physically abused. That’s a lot harder to ignore after seeing the video of Rice decking his wife and photos of the marks and cuts on Petersen’s son’s legs. That’s what this should be about.