Football gets it right

Mizzou-logoThis 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.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

#CoverTheAthlete points out how weird it would be if journalists talked about male athletes’ bodies the way they talk about female athletes’

Franchesca “chescaleigh” Ramsey brings us White People Whitesplain Whitesplaining, an excellent example of how speaking for others, even with the best of intentions, is not nearly as powerful as listening to them.

What If Bears Killed One In Five People? We wouldn’t put up with that. But 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted by the time they finish college, so why aren’t we putting a stop to it?

No more. Do more.

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:

  1. Take away their salaries and send the money to organizations that work to counter the wrong they’ve committed.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

So okay then. Men have raised the bar a half inch. After the football season’s over, will more men step up and help build and maintain momentum here?

Men, thanks for supporting No More. Now do more.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

I love the complexity and intersectionality on display in this conversation with Beth Richie about her role as a senior advisor to the NFL on domestic abuse.

Finding my voice made me stronger.” A rape survivor shares the powerful work she’s doing on The King County Sexual Assault Resource Center’s blog.

This father-daughter duo are dressing up as Han Solo and Princess Leia for Halloween – but with a twist!

Culture of violence

NFL headquarters
NFL headquarters

Two years before Ray Rice pushed the league’s “domestic violence problem” into the headlines, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell testified to a Congressional committee: “We are changing the culture of our game for the better.” He wasn’t talking about the culture in which officials brushed off “hundreds and hundreds” of reports of domestic violence assaults by its players—that would come later. Back then, the league was under fire after decades of dismissing the evidence that one in three players suffer long-term cognitive impairment caused by on-the-job brain injuries.

The NFL’s tolerance for its players’ brutality off the field goes hand in hand with indifference to the damage they suffer from violence on the field. Both have been blamed on football’s “culture of violence.”  But ultimately these are business decisions, driven by capitalism more than culture. The spectacle of hyper-masculinity is just another product, manufactured and marketed at enormous profit.

For many players, their assaults against women were covered up by high school and college teams on the route to being excused by the NFL. From Washington to Florida State, university officials are just as invested as NFL executives in protecting their players from accountability, and for the same reason: so as not to hamper the economic engine driving universities, towns, and a professional sports industry.

What is the cost to athletes themselves of being the fuel in that engine? Attention to the few superstars who land multi-million dollar contracts overshadows the far more common story: disproportionately Black and Brown young men, who never see any share of the profit that is extracted from their talent and their bodies. Any serious reform effort has to pay attention to the exploitation of those young men by the same system that colludes with their violence.

Domonique Foxworth, a former cornerback who fought for more safety protections as head of the NFL players’ union, reflects on the physical and economic price college athletes pay to play, the trap of being celebrated for embodying a certain masculine ideal loaded with racist baggage, and how the stage is set for relationships with women infused with resentment and contempt.

Whether motivated by brand rehabilitation or sudden moral clarity, the NFL has hired a team of consultants to advise them on cleaning up their atrocious response to domestic violence. We have yet to see whether advocates can leverage the moment into an opportunity for change deep enough to matter.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

This cartoon that’s been making the rounds this week is a great response to folks who question if women really get sexually harassed on a regular basis. (explicit language)

I’m a big fan of Amy Poehler’s Ask Amy show. This week I discovered Stephen Colbert is also candidly fielding questions from teen girls as part of the Ask a Grown Man series.

While the NFL is finally considering some actual consequences for domestic violence following the outrage over Ray Rice’s measly two game suspension, the concept of prevention—and the role coaches can play in mentoring young men—has entered the dialogue.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

A profile of the incredibly brave Dr. Willie Parker: “The protesters say they’re opposed to abortion because they’re Christian. It’s hard for them to accept that I do abortions because I’m a Christian.” (explicit language)

An incisive and necessary rant: The NFL sends the message that it’s better to hit a woman than smoke pot which leads Keith Olbermann to wonder why the NFL doesn’t think women are worthy of “basic human respect.”

Mary Poppins’ take on living wages.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

The brilliant powerhouse Maya Angelou passed away this week. Of the many tributes written to her, this one touched me the most: “That one opportunity I had to be in the same room with her I wrapped myself up in the love she poured out and the wisdom she displayed.

Another sports star beats his wife and gets off with just an apology. That’s bad enough, but even worse is how his team “thinks rehabbing the images of players who project the violence of their game onto women is no more than a public relations problem.”

There’s been a lot of emphasis on mental illness as an explanation for the horrific actions of Elliot Rodgers, but it seems clear to me that his misogyny was the motivating factor. And he’s not alone – When Women Refuse chronicles the endless stories of violence inflicted on women who reject sexual advances.

Scorched Earth

I was thinking about a man I know. He’s a bully and on a scale of one to ten, he’s a solid ten jerk. You know him too.

He’s been married four times. Has many, many children—mostly boys. And now his children are having children and carrying on their dad’s tradition of being irresponsible fathers.

This man is marching through life burning everything in his path. His reach and influence are deadening to those in his inner circle, maddening to those of us sitting a few rings out—and legendary in the community. This man’s thousands of twins (including his brothers in the NFL) have the same impact.

© photo by Johsel Namkung
© photo by Johsel Namkung

I’m tempted to focus on the amazing resilience of this man’s families and the others he has impacted, and broaden that to the resilience of the human body and spirit. After all, what happens after a fire? The wildflowers sprout and the trees re-emerge. Right?

But I’m not going there.

Life calls upon us to be resilient enough with unavoidable  illness, loss, and death. What I’m calling out is all the avoidable illness, loss, and death. All the damage done by bullies, rapists, batterers is damage of their own making—it is all under their control and therefore they can prevent it from happening. So, why don’t they?

In trying to make some sense out of this, I revisited a “fireside chat” that my boss Nan Stoops gave earlier this year. It’s long, but if you skip to 16:30 you get to the meat of a pretty darned brilliant commentary that sheds some light on why the bully in my circle keeps on destroying.

Briefly, I believe Nan’s view is that for better or worse, the gigantic movement of mostly women working to end violence against women developed ideas that focused on women’s victimization, and not on men’s violence. And we placed the responsibility for ending violence on individuals and families, not on communities.

Imagine what would have happened if my bully was required to go to a shelter, rather than his wives and children fleeing. What if rather than putting him in jail, we had every institution guide—and if necessary shame—him when he behaved in arrogant and mean ways? What if everyone, everywhere just said “don’t talk to her that way.” And “How about you join this group and take this class on being a great dad?” What if my bully had to answer for himself over and over again?