Last night, Chris Berman and Trent Dilfer perfectly encapsulated what is wrong with the NFL, its fans, and how the two handle domestic violence. To be clear, it’s not what the pair said, because the two announcers completely whitewashed the incident in which Ray Rice brutally assaulted his then fiancé (now wife) and dragged her unconscious body from an elevator, showing no concern or remorse for his actions.
Berman said the Ravens “acted right away” and “very quickly,” which is a tough one to argue when TMZ released a video of Rice dragging his unconscious fiancé on February 19th. It wasn’t until September 8th, nearly seven months later, that Rice was cut by the team. Hardly seems “right away.”
Dilfer argued the “NFL did a great job of sending a stern message.” But I’m confused what that message is. I received a message that the NFL was either grossly negligent or willfully ignorant in regards to obtaining the video that captured Rice’s assault from inside the elevator. It sent a strong message that it would prefer its players assault women, so long as they don’t abuse PEDs or smoke too much weed (Rice was suspended only 2 games, while other players during the offseason received punishments ranging from 4-16 games for smoking pot and taking performance-enhancing drugs). The NFL tried to send a message, but what it communicated to the public was simple: it understand little about domestic violence and care to learn even less.
Instead, what Berman and Dilfer did succeed at during this tone-deaf discussion was portraying exactly why the NFL could fumble every opportunity to take a stance against domestic abuse, or feign even the slightest concern for the well-bring of its women fans, and still be the most watched sport in the country. Simply put, we love football, and no matter what grotesque actions are taken by the league or its players, we’ll keep watching. Because we love football.
Littered throughout Berman and Dilfer’s discussion were countless interruptions when Berman halted whatever “progress” they weren’t making to address what was happening on the field. The two stopped applauding the Raven’s swift actions only to inform us the Cardinals had thrown a short screen pass or failed to convert on 3rd down. You can watch the entire incident here, but the real highlight is at the conversation’s finale.
Just as Berman is getting to something meaningful, discussing how the league needs to find a way to reach out to women in need right now, his cuts off his tangent to inform the audience what they can clearly see on their television screens, that the Chargers blocked a punt.
That’s the problem in a nutshell. We can talk about these larger issues, so long as there isn’t a game being played. We’re happy to argue about the problems of domestic violence that permeate this league, so long as it doesn’t interrupt our viewing pleasure.
This weekend I ventured to sports bar, where I simultaneously watched every 1 p.m. game. It was sensory overload. I was like a dog on a road trip, I didn’t know where to look and was in a constant state of spinning my head from one television to the next. Watching one game wasn’t enough. I wanted the entire early slate of games at once. And I wasn’t alone. This is the type of obsessive fandom we need to compete with, trying to squeeze talking points about abuse into a conversation saturated with player statistics and tales of gridiron glory.
I like to think I care about these issues. But by watching these games, wearing my jersey, and playing fantasy football, I’m buying into the league exactly how the NFL wants me to. The front office will continue to treat domestic violence, or any other issue of concern (Dan Snyder, I’m looking at you), the same way until it actually damages the league’s bottom line. That’s why when a court cancelled several trademarks owned by the Washington football franchise, it was the biggest step in changing the name of Snyder’s team. It wasn’t necessarily a victory on moral grounds, but financially it has the ability to hurt the team, and that is more pressure than any slew of tweets or blog posts could have. We can say whatever we want, but so long as we keep watching the games, the NFL is happy. And if the NFL is happy, don’t expect to see any change.
So I challenge you, presumably small reading audience, stop watching the games until something meaningful is done. Or at least the Ravens. Or the 49ers, which let Ray McDonald play on Sunday after he was arrested on felony domestic violence charges. Or the Panthers, which let Greg Hardy play on Sunday after he was found guilty during the offseason of assaulting his girlfriend and threatening to kill her. Or maybe avoid watching your own team, because odds are it has a man on its roster who went unpunished for violence against a woman. After all, NFL players are arrested for domestic violence at a rate 55.4% higher than the national average.
Like Berman and Dilfer, we can keep saying whatever we want, and nothing will change. If we want to see change, we need to act. Clearly, the NFL isn’t going to.