Over the last few months, the growing conversation surrounding Ray Rice’s brutal and cowardly assault of his then-fiancée and current wife, Janay Palmer, has nearly broken the NFL and its commissioner, arguably the most powerful man in sports, Roger Goodell. As despicable as Rice’s actions and the league’s subsequent punishment were, their egregious behavior has helped foster a national debate on the historically ignored issue of domestic violence and the treatment of women in our society.
The NFL and other sports leagues and organizations have recently taken small steps in the right direction. The league finally got it right with the suspensions and deactivations of players, such as Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald, and Jonathan Dwyer, for their respective roles in violence-related incidents. Even Florida State, historically infamous for ethical violations, bent to public pressure and suspended Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston for a game after he publicly shouted a grossly misogynistic phrase in the middle of campus.
But the measures taken by these organizations are temporary and have only helped assuage public outcry for now. I’m fearful they will not take the necessary next step toward addressing one of the root causes of this systemic problem, which is to eradicate a culture that subliminally condones this objectifying and appalling behavior. Go to any major professional or college sporting event and take in the sights and sounds. You’ll hear songs played that are filled with offensive lyrics and find scantily clad cheerleaders performing for everyone’s pleasure.
It does not stop there. Sports leagues and teams have elevated celebrities who, through past actions or artistic pursuits, have committed or condoned these horrific actions toward women. Eminem has frequently become an on-air guest at games he attends and is celebrated as a musical visionary by his interviewers. Drake, who hosted the ESPY Awards this past summer, has an official position with the Toronto Raptors as global ambassador and will serve as the host for the 2016 NBA All-Star game in Toronto. Rick Ross will headline the University of Memphis basketball team’s upcoming Midnight Madness festivities. And that’s just to name a few.
The phrase that Jameis Winston uttered in public would be considered tame relative to the misogynistic abominations that pass for lyrics in these artists’ songs. Based on the disciplinary punishment administered by Florida State, if Winston sang the entirety of one of their selected songs in public, he would have been suspended for the entire season.
By supporting these respective artists, what values do our sports leagues, teams, and their associated ventures communicate to our society? Do parents want their son to believe that this type of behavior toward women is permissible? Or, even worse, would parents want their daughter to believe that she has to submit to living in a society where this is simply deemed part of our culture? Whether they intend to or not, that’s the precise message that our beloved teams are sending.
I do not intend to come across as a naïve, self-righteous social justice warrior. In fact, I recognize that I am a part of this large-scale problem because I continue to give teams incentives to promote this type of culture. I have supported these artists in the past by attending their concerts and listening to their music, and by attending sporting events where my aforementioned grievances are prevalent.
Something, however, must be done. It’s time for our favorite sports leagues to take more permanent steps toward addressing the misogynistic culture that permeates the sports world. While a more strict disciplinary policy toward the agents of these cowardly actions may discourage future acts of domestic violence, it will not wholly solve the problem. As long as we continue to support a culture that inadvertently condones and celebrates this abhorrent behavior, we should continue to expect more of the same.