I love football.
I was a rare breed of Patriots fan growing up in tobacco road basketball country. It didn’t matter. My support was sincere. It was in my Yankee-born veins. I remember feeling absolutely sick in 1986 when the Chicago Bears shuffled their way all over my poor Patriots. I saw my son feel that same pain when we let him stay up in 2012 to watch the Patriots lose to the Giants and he looked at me with tears in his little blue-green eyes and said, “But I wanted the Patriots to win the Super Bowl, mommy.” As if his 6 year old desire was enough to put some extra time on the clock and change the outcome. I said a little prayer of thanks that the Sox had overcome the Curse of the Bambino by the time this little guy came along. I don’t think he could have handled that kind of pain.
But lately, I’m a bit disgusted with football. It’s been a rough week for the NFL. Domestic abuse, child abuse. Not great. And their response? The NFL created a VP of social responsibility position and put a woman in it. And look, look, we appointed some other women, too! Great. Bandaids are helpful first aid tools, too, but not for broken bones.
I understand that professional athletes are paid to perform a task. I understand that because of our American culture of success we thrust role model-dom upon these athletes whether they want it or are worthy of it. I understand that the almighty dollar will influence what the NFL does much more than what I say here. I also understand that many fans can more easily separate their dedication to their favorite teams from the news that’s circulating about certain individuals than I can. I understand that despite the current outcry, the impact on the actual game will be negligible.
But what I don’t understand is how the NFL can be so totally tone deaf to such a large group of their fans.
Women make up more than 45 percent of the NFL’s fan base. And they need more than women appointed to positions simply to smooth over a PR nightmare. They need more than a few too-tight pink t-shirts with team logos on them. They need respect. Real respect. Not appeasement. I was a fan when being a girl football fan didn’t feel as common. I didn’t look up to the players as role models, personally — I had no shot of being a professional football player (despite the fact that my high school football coaching uncle taught me how to properly tackle as a means of self-defense the summer I was 13) and had my own bookshelves full of role models. But I respected players. I appreciated their work ethic. I lauded their dramatic accomplishments on the field. I had favorites based on their performances on and off the field (I’m a sucker for a big football player helping the community).
If the NFL wants to fix this for women, they need to fix this for everyone – men and women. Understand that domestic violence isn’t a women’s issue. Understand that creating merchandise for women doesn’t mean you smack an NFL logo on a high heel and call it a day. Understand that the types of men they “hire” to play their sport must, like any other profession, show a certain level of character.
Show me concrete policies and behavior expectations for your athletes. Show me consistent implementation. Show me training in how to recognize abuse – domestic, child or otherwise. Show me counseling provided to players. Show me support offered to athletes’ families. Show me, show me, show me. Stop telling me. Stop pandering. Stop messaging. Stop strategizing. Stop flip flopping. Stop putting the quality of the pay day above the quality of the player.
As the mom of boys who play sports and the mom of boys who watch sports, show me you are an organization worthy of my boys’ attention. Because right now? I’m not sure the NFL is. It is my job to raise boys who grow into men who respect women. Men who value hard work in themselves and others. Men who set about earning what they receive. Men who give back. Men who are generous with their time and love. Men who understand hitting anyone – man, woman or child – is not how to communicate. Men who can distinguish right from wrong.
What does it say about their mother if I continue to support an organization that clearly doesn’t support her?
Nothing I’d like for them to hear, that’s for sure.
I know that it’s a few bad apples. That the actions of a few do not imply the actions of the many. But when these kinds of voices are the ones we are hearing, when I see action taken only when sponsors threaten boycott, when I have to turn off ESPN so my children don’t see the image of a man cold-cocking a woman in an elevator, then there is something wrong. Something that needs to be fixed.
So, show me I’m wrong NFL. Show me something more than you have the last two weeks. Show me something real and honest and sincere and compassionate. Show me you’re thinking about more than your own face.
I feel we are at a tipping point in society with women and their role in it right now. The NFL’s domestic abuse issues are simply a drop in that bucket already filling up with the blocked equal pay for equal work bill, the shaming of women who are the victims of sexual assaults on college campuses, corporations that get to determine what kind of health care their female employees deserve.
We are at a tipping point, all right. The sad thing, is I’m not sure which way the scales are going to tip. And that scares me.