Recently, highly publicized media stories have shed light on violence perpetrated by star athletes such as Floyd Mayweather, Ray Rice and Darren Sharper, and the institutions that continue to compromise their achievements and on-field tenacity for the ongoing threat they pose to their families and our communities. These institutions, such as the NFL and WBA, continue to overlook, avoid and deny how these athletes’ predatory and anti-social behavior further perpetuates a culture where we glorify and reward violent behavior.
In a cnn.com opinion piece, “Why do we ignore Mayweather’s domestic abuse?,” the author writes, “Mayweather has had at least seven assaults against five women that resulted in arrest or citations in addition to other episodes in which the police were called but no charges filed.” Furthermore, despite Mayweather’s documented history of domestic violence, there is no mention of any accountability or responsibility. In fact, sports blog Deadspin alleges that there may even be an attempt to cover-up Mayweather’s crimes by destroying or hiding photo evidence of his assaults, which is convenient since Mayweather explains his innocence by repeatedly stating that there are “no pictures.”
In the New York Post article, “The $45 billion reason the NFL ignores despicable behavior,” the author writes: “the rewards are so immense that the risks, be they domestic abuse or the players’ debilitating concussions, seem to be an after-thought.”
It’s true. The average NFL franchise is currently worth $1.4 billion, and collectively the league’s teams have a market value of $45 billion. These institutions objectify athletes as commodities that are indispensable when an asset, and expendable when a liability. Off-the-field violence and dominance rarely renders them as liabilities in the context of a culture that is all too happy to justify, rationalize, and ignore such violence. In this context, accepting and downplaying their transgressions is simply good business.
Last fall, after the mass outcry about the NFL’s systematic evasion of players’ off-field violence, the NFL announced that the organization plans to enter a partnership with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and loveisrespect to provide “millions of dollars in funding” and opportunities for education to their football players. The NFL also aired an anti-domestic violence commercial during the Super Bowl in February.
That’s a starting point, but in no way a solution.
The timely Amy Schumer comedic parody “Football Town Nights” illustrates how in the same breath we both glorify and condemn violence. Throughout the sketch, the new coach in town sets a new rule of “no raping,” and attempts to educate the team members about what constitutes rape and that men must take “no” for an answer. Then, in the final scene, when the team is losing the Friday night game, the coach explodes with passion stating, “Football is about violently dominating anyone that stands between you and what you want!” The invigorated team rushes out of the locker room after the coach’s call to action, with the mixed messages lingering in audience members’ minds.
Most people involved in organized sports are not perpetrators; however, there are predatory and anti-social behaviors that perpetrators display and it is our responsibility as institutions, organizations and community members to hold individuals responsible and accountable. Furthermore, we have to acknowledge how the messages are not as mixed as we’d like to think, and that institutional practices show us quite clearly that this behavior is considered acceptable.
It is possible to be successfully competitive without being an abusive bully and perpetrator of violence, and this needs to be the expectation held by athletic institutions and their members.
We have to acknowledge that actions speak louder than words and PR, and that institutional sanctions and rewards will play an enormous role in whether we continue to tolerate criminal and abusive violence, or whether we begin to hold offenders accountable for their antisocial treatment of others. At this moment, we have made the first choice: we prefer to profit off of them at the expense of the millions of individuals and families traumatized and adversely affected by family violence, intimate partner violence and sexual violence.
The Mayweather v. Pacquiano fight in early May was billed as the “Fight of the Century” that earned hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. The NFL and their teams are collectively worth billions. College athletics generate billions of dollars in revenue each year.
In contrast, the Office of Violence Against Women allocates $600 million annually through its grant programs to address violence against women by funding courts, law enforcement, prosecutor’s offices, state coalitions, and domestic violence and sexual assault centers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a Rape Prevention Education (RPE) Program that provides $42 million each year to sexual assault coalitions and centers to provide sexual violence prevention education.
How can we compete on this uneven playing field?
It’s encouraging that institutions like the NFL are beginning to respond to those who collectively seek to hold them accountable, but for these responses to be meaningful and make positive impacts, the NFL must begin holding themselves accountable for holding offenders accountable. In the simplest terms? Institutions must put their money where their mouth is.