By Brenda Riemer
During the off-season and now at the end of week 1 of the NFL season, Ray Rice has dominated the headlines in the worse possible way for the National Football League. After being arrested, Rice was allowed to enter a diversion program by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office instead of being prosecuted for domestic violence. In addition, the National Football League suspended him for the first 2 games of the 2014-2015 season. But then TMZ released the video which showed the violent act by Rice towards his then fiancé (and now wife). Once the video was released, his team, the Baltimore Ravens, released him and the NFL lengthened his suspension from 2 games to indefinite.
Two thoughts have come to mind from listening to Rice’s coach, John Harbaugh, give a press conference about the release and from other NFL players about the ban. First, there is the spoken hope that Ray and his wife can mend their relationship. “Harbaugh said that he has kept a strong relationship with his star running back since the incident and offered to help Rice and his wife mend their relationship” (Kron 4). I have to ask, why is the focus on the relationship and not on helping his wife leave her abuser? The research on domestic violence is crystal clear: This is not about a relationship that is rocky. This is about violence. Yet the NFL seems to want us to view the situation as a slight marital problem which can be mended. In this light, they are bringing heterosexual norms to a situation that at its core, has nothing to do with the current situation. But the NFL sells the package of heterosexuality to its fan base. By focusing on the relationship and not on the violence, they bring us back to the vision of a man and woman together.
The next thought that came to mind from the “second wave of punishment” is what Christine Brennan has been quite vocal about – what about the other players in the NFL who have been arrested and charged with domestic violence? Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and the 49ers and the NFL have not responded. Jed York, the CEO of the 49ers stated that he does not have enough information to determine if McDonald is guilty and that McDonald is not Ray Rice. Today (September 9, 2014), Greg Hardy was found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend and threatening to kill her. He played in week 1, and while his attorney plans to appeal the court ruling, the NFL has remained silent on his future.
What can we logically say about the cases of McDonald and Hardy and the response by the NFL? Does the NFL approve of all masculinity, even when it leads to violence? Does the outrage of the public only happen when there is video evidence? Team officials who stated that Michael Sam would be too much of a media distraction might put all of these questions into perspective. When the attention is based on stereotypes of masculinity, the attention might not be all bad. But any attention on someone who might not fit the assumptions and stereotypes about masculinity and heterosexuality needs to be diminished.
Another example is the case of Latasha Byears, formerly of the WNBA. Byears and three men attacked a former team-mate and they were charged with rape. Byears was waived five days after she was arrested in 2003. Byears, who is a lesbian, sued the Lakers (owners of the Sparks), because Kobe Bryant was not punished in the same way. In this example we have two basketball players, one who fits the stereotype of a masculine athlete and one who does not fit the cultural stereotype of female. More punishment was given to the female. (Note: Both responses by the organization happened before the criminal cases were either tried or dismissed.)
In conclusion, my goal today was to share some thoughts about the NFL, and to peak behind the curtain of assumed heterosexuality and behaviors. It is a bit rambling, but blogs allow for rambling. But let’s think for a moment about cultural norms reach into all areas of how we act and respond to situations that we either find ourselves in, or that we hear about in the news.