After tuning into the NFL’s 2017 draft this weekend, I am left with the same dilemma that I have been struggling with for years: How can I reconcile my love for football Sundays and my stance on gender equality? How can I support an organization that welcomes players who face numerous charges of domestic violence and sexual assault?
Ultimately, can someone who is a true proponent of women’s rights also be a fan of the National Football League?
I know that player misconduct surrounding domestic violence and sexual assault is not news to anyone. It has been an ongoing problem in the NFL for years. However, what I learned from the picks made in the 2017 draft this past weekend is that this behavior will continue to be excused and, furthermore, condoned in the NFL.
Here are just a few of many players facing allegations or charges who were drafted this year:
• The Oakland Raiders drafted Gareon Conley in the first round, despite a rape allegation from April 9th of this year.
• Caleb Brantley, who is facing battery charges for striking a woman, was drafted by the Cleveland Browns.
• Joe Mixon was drafted by the Cinncinati Bengals in the 2nd round of the draft. In July of 2014, Mixon punched a woman in the face so hard that he broke multiple bones.
The Bengals’ pick of Mixon in particular has received a lot of media attention, as a horrific video of the assault has recently surfaced. The Bengals are facing heavy backlash. One fan stated, “Enough is enough, Bengals…We can excuse another season without winning a playoff game. We can't excuse drafting a player like Joe Mixon” (Conney 2017).
I agree. Enough is enough! However, I do not agree with targeting only the Bengals organization. We need to hold the NFL accountable as a whole. Mixon should not have been allowed to enter the draft. Period. Why doesn’t the NFL have a zero tolerance policy surrounding this type of behavior?
The NFL’s personal conduct policy states:
Conduct by anyone in the league that is illegal, violent, dangerous, or irresponsible puts innocent victims at risk, damages the reputation of others in the game, and undercuts public respect and support for the NFL. We must endeavor at all times to be people of high character; we must show respect for others inside and outside our workplace; and we must strive to conduct ourselves in ways that favorably reflect on ourselves, our teams, the communities we represent, and the NFL” (National Football League 2014).
Yet the NFL seems to do little to uphold this code of conduct. Furthermure, the league seems to deem certain acts as less offensive than others. Look at the severity of punishment for smoking marijuna compared to punching a woman in the face:
I believe that players who commit crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault should not be eligible for the NFL draft. Players who are already in the league who break this code of conduct should be banned from the league and made ineligible for Hall of Fame status.
In 2016, Darren Sharper was nominated to the Hall of Fame after pleading guilty to drugging and raping 16 women (Associated Press 2016).
What message does that send? Not only that you can commit such heinous crimes, but we will honor you for it? Is that a message you want our society’s youth hearing?
How many individuals, both young and old, worship these athletes and strive to emulate them? These players, who are followed by millions, are on one of the nation’s largest stages week after week. Only individuals who show character both on AND off the field should be allowed to perform on that stage.
Unfortunately, holding the NFL accountable is also not enough. This is a societal issue. The NFL is not the cause of such actions. They only help to perpetuate an already broken system. Domestic violence and sexual assault is prevalent in every community and affects all people regardless of age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “Every nine seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten (2016). Let that sink in… If it takes you three minutes to read this blog, by the time you are done, 20 women will have been assaulted or beaten. To end domestic violence and sexual assault, we ALL have to be part of the solution.
The next time you’re in a room with 6 people, think about these statistics provided by the NO MORE Project (2017):
1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience violence from their partners in their lifetimes.
1 in 3 teens experience sexual or physical abuse or threats from a boyfriend or girlfriend in one year.
1 in 5 women are survivors of rape.
1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives.
1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18.
So what can you do? Educating yourself and others, helping a friend who is being abused, speaking up, and being an engaged upstander are all examples of things you can do to help. Spark a dialogue. Talking about these issues openly will help end the shame and stigma that surrounds domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.
In regards to the NFL, maybe it’s time I turn off the television on Sundays. Maybe I need to refocus my time and energy towards an organization that is pro women. Maybe instead of spending my money on tickets and jerseys, I should donate it to an organization working towards gender equality.
When I was this young (left)...
...watching football seemed like fun and games. Now that I’m older though, watching men perform spectacular plays on the field every Sunday does not outweigh their actions off the field. Until the league makes some changes, I think I need to shift my focus to rooting for women's rights instead.