The NFL & Domestic Violence: Talking the Talk

During Super Bowl XLIX, No More, a domestic violence and sexual assault awareness group, ran a commercial.

The commercial showed empty rooms of a house torn apart—a bedroom in disarray, cracked drywall, a shattered picture frame. The accompanying audio was a woman calling 911. When the operator picked up, she pretended to order a pizza. The operator eventually understood that the woman called to report domestic abuse but couldn’t say it out loud—her abuser was nearby.

The video cut to white text on a black screen: “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.”

In a more recent collaboration with No More, NFL players repeat the words “no more” followed by euphemisms for domestic violence. Eli Manning, the New York Giants’ quarterback, is first on screen.

He says: “No more ‘boys will be boys.’”

But these excuses still have a comfortable home in NFL locker rooms. Eli Manning’s locker room is no exception.

The New York Giants recently faced a maelstrom of media scrutiny after police released more evidence of placekicker Josh Brown’s history of domestic abuse.

But in the greed-fueled corruption that is Roger Goodell’s NFL, a mishandled case of domestic violence is far from atypical. John Mara, owner of the Giants, was entirely cognizant of Brown’s history when he signed him to a four million dollar contract in April. Brown originally only faced a one game (that’s right, one game) suspension after documents surfaced in which he confessed to physically assaulting his wife.

Now, Brown is on the commissioner’s “exempt list”—paid leave, more or less, though the interpretation that Brown is “exempt” from punishment also works.

***

We all know about the NFL’s domestic abuse problem. We know of its magnitude and its mismanagement. But Josh Brown’s case reaffirms that the type of avoidant rhetoric the NFL prefaces with “no more” is still very alive—not only in the locker room, but in the news.

By “no more,” the NFL actually means “one more,” “a few more,” or “okay, maybe a dozen more.”

As reported by the New York Daily News, running back Rashad Jennings recently described Brown as “a good friend and a great man” on the NFL Network.

Mr. Jennings, with all due respect (and it’s up for debate if any at all is due), if you define a “great man” as somebody who abused his ex-wife 20 times—including when she was pregnant— then your ethical standards are incomprehensible to those of us with actual morals.

Jennings did not stop there. He continued: “This is something the man himself doesn’t even support, domestic violence against anyone. It’s just unfortunate that you have to deal with it.”

Let that resonate. “Unfortunate that you have to deal with it.”

If No More needs material, Rashad Jennings is a gold mine of deplorability.

Whether or not Brown supports domestic violence doesn’t matter—not to mention it’s flat-out ludicrous to make that claim. What does matter is that he’s guilty. He should be addressed accordingly.

Jennings and co. portray Brown as afflicted. In reality, he’s an inflicter.

No more “it’s unfortunate.’” It’s not unfortunate. It’s detestable.

***

One of many memes on Instagram features NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, with the text: “Just to make this clear, it’s OK to hit Mary, but you better not hit Mary Jane.” The joke (albeit truthful) is the NFL’s quickness to dole out punishment for drug offenses but not for domestic abuse.

But these memes not only make a joke of the NFL, but a joke of domestic violence. This is not acceptable, and the NFL is culpable.

Athletes assault women, it gets brushed under the rug, and people laugh. People think it’s okay to laugh. The NFL’s continually lax “boys will be boys” approach to the issue—the approach to which Eli falsely says “no more”—drives the cycle.

Tom Brady was suspended for four games over a couple PSI. Deflategate was national news for a ridiculous length of time. Brown was suspended a single game for more instances of domestic violence than you can count on your fingers—you’d have to employ all your toes, too. Chances are slim it will be a headline for as long as Brady’s footballs.

It’s a joke. A complete joke. But not the funny kind.

***

The NFL loves empty gestures.

Players wear pink during October—breast cancer awareness month—a charade with the same inefficacy as slapping a rainbow filter on a Facebook picture “in support” of the LGBT community.

Football stars will sit and say “no more” domestic violence while the NFL underplays cases like Brown’s—a hollow publicity stunt.

But the emptiest gesture of all was in league legislation—the NFL’s “New Personal Conduct Policy,” which took effect in 2014. Its most striking line is:

“Violations involving assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault will result in a baseline six-game suspension without pay, with more if aggravating factors are present, such as the use of a weapon or a crime against a child.”

Interesting.

“Baseline six-game suspension.” Yet Brown’s suspension was only one game. And shouldn’t abuse of a pregnant woman count as “a crime against a child”? Brown is not an outlier. In 2015, after Greg Hardy faced 10 games for domestic violence, the NFL  dropped it to four, deeming 10 games “simply too much.”

What “baseline”?

Roger Goodell and the NFL talk the proverbial talk but abstain from walking. Until they enforce their own rules, we will continue to read about NFL players going more or less unpunished for domestic abuse.

No More’s public service announcement urged us “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.” The NFL simply denies the conversation. They won’t talk, nor will they listen.

Therefore, we must force the conversation. The best way to get Roger Goodell’s attention is to attack his wallet. Stop watching. Stop buying jerseys. Smack the Mephistophelean sneer off the insatiable hog’s face by going going after his bottom line.

In a world where football fans buy Kaepernick jerseys specifically to burn them ceremoniously, this is a big ask. Big enough to raise the question: is the NFL too big, too rich, too omnipotent to change?

I think not. And I am not alone. But until the majority of NFL fans acknowledge the disturbing reality, stories like Brown’s will continue to repeat themselves.

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