This week I read a beautifully written piece, “Inside the NFL’s Domestic Violence Punishment Problem,” written by Mary Pilon on mag.bleacherreport.com. As a survivor of domestic violence as a child and as an adult the personal stories of these NFL Wives resonated with me.
As we prepare for the 51st presentation of the American version of Gladiators where the New England Patriots take on the underdog Atlanta Falcons, like Mary Pilon I wanted to put a focus on women instead of the almighty game. The father of my children was heavily scouted in college by the NFL up until he sustained a broken leg and shoulder in a car accident. Although he returned to his glory at the college level, the NFL viewed him as injured goods and the NFL quickly lost interest. I do not think that emotionally he ever recovered from what his life could have been. Football Sunday involved uncounted cans of beer and religious homage paid to the television as every game was watched. There were occasional outbursts and at times a stream of vulgarities that led to the sound of another can of beer being opened. I am a Brooklyn girl and there is not much grass in Bed-Stuy and even less in lower Manhattan where I went to high-school, so I was no fan of football it did not have any significance in my life until I met this man. At times his solemn relationship with the NFL actually made me feel sorry for him, because unlike the fanfare that I experienced with my Washington DC family in their weekly celebration of the Washington Red Skins, this man sat alone and I swear some weeks it seemed like tears filled his eyes as if to beg the question why me. As a new mom living and enjoying life in the now, I really could not understand wasting an enormous amount of time not watching a single team as a hardcore fan, but watching the entire lineup when there was so much more to do and experience, particularly with infant children.
During my time with The Snoop Youth Football League (SYFL), I heard a lot of the male coaches diminish the respect that young boy’s have for girls and ultimately women. The SYFL I am sure mirrors Pop Warner leagues around the nation. Often on the field I would hear words like, “don’t cry like a little girl.” This child just got hit so hard we could hear the helmets crack and rather than telling the child to breath and explain what he is feeling rather than cry, his words are actually diminishing this kid’s appreciation for the feelings of women in general. Those things incensed me and I spoke out it and called it in real time so that the SYFL could adopt policies of respect. After every game the young athletes would line up and shake hands with the opposing team, then cheerleaders would perform a final cheer for their team. Well losing teams generally just want to go home and these young boys were not much different. Cheerleaders would line up and boys would literally break away from their team and walk off the field. I spoke up about that and the league put an end to that behavior and now the boys kneel on one knee and watch the cheerleaders perform win or lose. Building respect for women is something to be done in partnership with men.
The NFL has a policy that appears to be one of partnership and on it’s face advocates for the protection of women. the Personal Conduct Policy specifically addresses matters regarding “assault, battery, domestic violence [and] sexual assault that involve[s] physical force,” that in theory will cause players to be “subject to suspension without pay over six games for a first offense.” In my experience as a not so famous adult and domestic violence was that me and my children’s father both had the potential to be arrested. When the responding officers arrived to our condo and assessed the situation, which by the time they had arrived, I was left standing with three infants under the age of four years old, and their father had left the scene – no arrests were made. And that reason was two-fold, one I fought back and there were physical scars on both of us and two he had left the scene and I did not know where he had gone. What I did know after that incident was I needed to get out of the situation and with some planning, creating a new budget, setting money aside, locating a new childcare center, and signing a new apartment lease, I was able to do just that within a few months.
I do not know how effective this policy actually is and it is almost like the female victims do not even warrant a hashtag. Rae Carruth was convicted for the murder of his pregnant girlfriend Cherica Adams in 1997. This is before Roger Goodell updated the NFL’s policy in 2017. But since 2014 there has not been a shortage of incidents that have not resulted in implementation of this policy. In 2014 Dan Skuta of the Jaguars was arrested for slamming a woman’s face into a glass shopping window after she refused to give him her phone number. Charges were eventually dropped against Skuta, but the NFL did not push to penalize Skuta. Ray Rice now notorious for the hotel elevator footage where he knocked out his then fiance initially received a two game suspension and then was indefinitely suspended by the NFL after they updated policy. Bruce Miller was arrested ad plead no contest for misdemeanor domestic violence charge to pushing his thne fiancee’ and smashing her phone against a wall. It took a separate act of violence from Miller against strangers for the NFL to react. Let me put this in perspective…my daughter’s high school has a zero tolerance fighting policy. Another student taunted my daughter and on the last day of school, after I personally met with the principal, drafted an exit route from the school to the after school teen center where my daughter went after school, literally stalked my child in order to fight her – both students were suspended although my child was the victim. If the NFL’s policy was a zero tolerance policy perhaps mitigating factors would be less of a thing and a conviction would not be required for action. These athletes as professionals spend countless hours in training. Perhaps part of the annual training should include Emotional Muscle Development; a course on how to manage anger, how to better communicate with words and emotions, how to be a better spouse/ man, identify when to walk away, learn when to enroll in therapy, identify unhealthy relationships, how to NOT grab her by the pussy or bash her face into glass because she does not want your phone number, no means no, being a help mate to your wife on and off season, and lastly how to juggle fatherhood with career. These are just some of my random ideas while typing up this piece.
What I do know is that society is responsible for bringing acceptable behavior in line with expectation. The NFL is a huge part of American society to the tune of 7.2 Billion Dollars and on average 20.75 million viewers tune into Fox across all games (Sports Illustrated). So this Superbowl Sunday, hit up your local team owner and let them know where you stand on this subject.
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