I’m a feminist, marketer, mother, and sports fan. I’m fascinated by the role athletics play in our culture, and, like many of my fellow football fans, I’m appalled by the NFL’s handling of Ray Rice and their documented leniency in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault.
But I’m not going to boycott the NFL. Despite the calls to do so by a number of feminists who I love and respect, I won’t stop watching games, and I’ll continue to allow advertisers to pay millions of dollars for access to my live-viewing eyeballs every Thursday, Sunday and Monday.
First, I think it’s worth reiterating that most NFL players have not been convicted of assault or domestic abuse and that the arrest rate for NFL players is generally on the decline (and less than the arrest rate of the general male population).
While I wish it didn’t take a viral video of an NFL player punching his fiance to do so, the national conversation sparked by Ray Rice’s — and other players’ — violent behavior is forcing our culture, from everyday spectators to CEOs of national brands to the ownership of billion-dollar NFL franchises — to think about how our society frames/portrays/accepts/ignores violence against women. Major companies like P&G and Pepsi are making public (albeit vague) statements about their condemnation of domestic violence, and the social media outcry against the Ravens and Vikings’ initial responses speaks for itself.
Is it problematic that one of our country’s most beloved sports excludes female athletes and includes violent offenders? Absolutely. But we need to figure out — as a culture — how we can celebrate athleticism, competitive drive, and physical prowess for both men and women while we continue to promote the acceptance of gender equality and condemnation of violence of all kinds. And football, as a highly visible, culturally relevant platform, is a great place to start.
American football is a performance of hyper-masculinity, and if it’s going to serve as a stage for us to have these important conversations, if it’s going to force the media, business owners, and government leaders to talk about violence against women and demand change, then I am certainly not leaving the theater.
In fact, women’s continued viewership is part of what’s forcing the league, the coaches, and the franchise owners to stop ignoring the problem. The NFL promises to deliver female fans, a valuable demographic, to their sponsors. Without us, their ad space loses value, and they lose money. Likewise, the sponsors don’t want backlash from women for tacitly supporting the NFL’s backward policies. They know that women are watching. And while women aren’t playing on the field, they’re covering the sport, sitting in the stands, and watching at home.
Football is a part of American culture, and its players’ horrible behavior (and the league’s equally horrible responses) have initiated conversations about how our society downplays violence against women and celebrates an outdated, hyper-masculine ideal. Young girls and boys are seeing their NFL idols kicked off their teams. Parents are talking to their kids about domestic violence and what being an equal partner and a loving parent really means. We’re re-thinking what it means to be a male athlete and a public figure. The NFL (and other leagues) are implementing new standards of acceptable behavior for adult men who agree to become cultural icons.
The latest bout of NFL scandals is making Americans have these conversations at tailgates, water coolers, and dinner tables everywhere. I’m thrilled that my son will grow up with an NFL that vigilantly removes violent men because they’re watched like a hawk by the media.
Female fans must continue to put pressure on the league and on the sponsors if we want to see this change continue. I plan on watching the games closely, and watching the NFL closer.