This Saturday, I’ll be cheering for the Mizzou Tigers. The entire team will take the field to play a game that might not have happened. Earlier this week, 30 players said they would not play. Thirty players who supported the growing unrest on campus in the wake of the administration’s refusal to address racism and anti-Semitism throughout the University of Missouri system. Thirty players who were concerned about a fellow student’s hunger strike. Thirty players who said: We love the game, but at the end of the day, it’s just that—a game.
They knew that the Board of Curators, alumni, and team boosters would not sit still for a forfeiture loss of $1 million dollars. They knew that nearby Ferguson was not random. And they took a stand. The next day, University of Missouri president Timothy Wolfe resigned, and the Columbia campus chancellor quickly followed. The Board of Curators has vowed to take immediate steps to interrupt patterns of hatred and violence that have disrupted the school since it was desegregated in 1950.
NFL players should take note. If you care about injustice in your community, take a Sunday or a Monday or a Thursday off. If you’re sick of the violence—racial violence, gender violence, anti-immigrant violence, etc.—boycott your own game. Maybe your coaches will support you. And maybe your fans will too. I know I will.
Living near Seattle is an absolute trial for someone as indifferent to football as I am. Before this past summer, I had never heard of Ray Rice and I didn’t know Baltimore had a football team. But suddenly I know these things. I would not ordinarily consider commenting on football, but knowing absolutely nothing about domestic violence has not stopped sports commentators from weighing in.
Contrary to what you might expect, I am not a fan of player suspensions for the same reason that I am not a big fan of the criminal justice system. Ejecting people from sports or from our communities and throwing them away in prisons doesn’t actually work that well. Ask a bunch of survivors if you don’t believe me.
How about turning these non-consequential consequences on their heads? Rather than throwing people away, how about we try the opposite: pulling them closer?
Instead of suspending players, put them into “suspended animation” that looks something like this:
Take away their salaries and send the money to organizations that work to counter the wrong they’ve committed.
Have the player sit on the bench at each game during their suspended animation wearing a T-shirt that reads “I’m sitting here thinking about why I’m not in the game.”
When the player has a clear idea about what they did wrong, allow them to call their entire team to hear them out. The team’s job, to a man, is to fire up and fine tune their bullsh*t meter and judge what the player has to say.
No matter how long it takes, the team keeps the player on the team (and among them) and only when the entire team’s meters fall into the “I believe you really get the wrong you did” zone, can the player be reinstated.
I floated this idea to some people who responded, essentially: “Yeah, right. Teams will just close ranks, slap a lot of backs, and let the dude off because it could be them tomorrow. Even if all the bullsh*t meters are smoking from being so far into the crap zone, the guy will be playing the very next week.”
I was disappointed by how little faith my friends had in men’s ability to step up. That is, men’s willingness to hold one another accountable with real integrity. The bar for men’s involvement in ending violence against women has been so low for so long that we’ve practically given up on the idea.
But that has got to change. I felt vindicated by the ads that the NFL aired on Thanksgiving. They actually showed some men (who I assume are well-known football players) in full screen looking not just uncomfortable, but positively vulnerable.
Did you happen to see that Ike Ditzenberger was hospitalized with severe pneumonia? For those of you who don’t know Ike, he is a local teenager here in Washington State who attends high school in Snohomish. The video of his touchdown during a high school football game a couple of years ago went viral, and he won the Seattle Children’s Inspirational Youth Award. Check out his acceptance speech—it’s well worth the 5 minutes of your time.
What caught my attention with his recent near-fatal health scare, was how his teammates have been with him every step of the way. Ike experiences the beloved community—with his team and their opponents, in his school, and with family and neighbors. Imagine if every teenager had this. Imagine.
The Super Bowl has come and gone. But it’s left me thinking about masculinity and violence. Don’t assume I’m just another woman trying to rain on the manly mans’ celebration of blood, sweat and crunchy helmets. I love football. Seriously. I miss the Sunday afternoons on the couch, hollering at the TV, rooting for my team.
You know what else I love? Peaceful homes and couples who treat each other with kindness.
Now, I know the Super Bowl doesn’t cause domestic violence. Abuse happens every day, regardless of a football game. However, I do think that abuse in relationships can be linked to the qualities that we value in men in this country. Jackson Katz talks about this in his commentary on Ben Roethlisberger. Acting tough and treating women poorly is usually the best way to avoid being labeled weak or called some, um, colorful feminizing insult (as if being compared to a woman is the most terrible thing for a man).
After the Super Bowl, the director of a violence prevention organization in Iowa received death threats, death threats, just for running this ad suggesting that we can prevent violence by raising our boys differently. Let’s just dwell for a second on the irony here.
How about we make it perfectly normal for men to be kind, gentle and respectful? These qualities are not exclusive to women and we should value them more than aggression and brute force. There’s a great place for all that to stay — on the football field.