It’s a weird time to be an avid NFL fan – particularly when you’re also a woman.
Beginning in September, I treat each Sunday as a holy day of chicken wings, beer and screaming at TVs. I play on an intramural football team. I own three Patriots jerseys (two, regrettably, bearing the name of a certain blue-eyed wide receiver who shall remain unnamed). I own the Patriots beanie, Patriots vintage tee, Patriots Christmas ornament and two Patriots beer koozies. I have funneled hundreds of dollars into the National Football League’s coffers.
When my fiancé and I recently went apartment hunting, we assessed each unit with our priorities clear: Where can we put the TV? Is the building wired for Verizon FiOS (NFL RedZone) or DirecTV (NFL Sunday Ticket)? Are there enough sports bars nearby?
But while Augusts past have been a time of feverish Fantasy Football drafting and handwringing hope for my beloved Pats’ upcoming season, my enthusiasm now wavers.
I am torn.
It’s because the National Football League’s true attitude toward women has never been quite so apparent as it is now.
The latest news, of course, is the punishment that the NFL doled out to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was caught on camera, as the New York Times put it, driving “his hand into his then-fiancee’s head, knocking her cold” and then dragging her unconscious body from an elevator in an Atlantic City casino. He was charged with third-degree aggravated assault, pled not guilty, then participated in a pre-trial intervention program for first-time offenders in order to avoid going to jail.
The NFL yesterday announced that it would suspend Rice for two games.
Two games. That’s it.
To put this in perspective, players regularly face equal – if not longer – suspensions for offenses like pot possession. Bloomberg’s Kavitha A. Davidson spells it out:
In the NFL, the punishment rarely fits the crime. Leaving aside PED suspensions, the incongruity between a punishment of anywhere from four to 16 or more games for smoking pot and two games for physically assaulting someone is glaring. Marijuana is swiftly being decriminalized, if not legalized, while Rice was charged with third-degree assault.
Particularly ironic (as one of those outraged Twitter-ers was quick to point out) is the case of Brandon Meriweather, who in 2013 was also suspended for two games for illegal hits… during a game. Against other players.
The message I take from this? In the NFL, “illegal hits” – be they bong or tackle – are as bad as domestic violence.
And the NFL’s problems go beyond domestic violence.
The league has been dealing with tremendously bad press over its treatment of cheerleaders, with three separate squads suing the NFL over their compensation and treatment. (Anyone else remember the “jiggle test”?)
A frequently cited concession to the NFL’s female viewership is its annual nod to Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout October players wear pink accessories (cleats, gloves and more) and the league trots out a collection of pink apparel that it sells, with proceeds going to support breast cancer charities. This is how the NFL shows it cares.
Too bad only a pittance goes to cancer research, according to an oft-cited figure from ESPN’s Darren Rovell.
But even if scientists got more of the money, it wouldn’t be enough to cancel out the clear message the NFL is sending with Rice’s paltry suspension.
With women making up roughly 44 percent of all football fans, you’d think the league would take issues like domestic violence more seriously – at least as seriously as getting a caught with a joint for a second time. But, apparently, that’s not the case.
TOP PHOTO: Baltimore Ravens Ray Rice reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Denver Broncos during the second quarter in their NFL football game in Denver, Colorado September 5, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
INSET PHOTO: Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders wearing pink in honor of breast cancer awareness month perform during a time out in the first half of their NFL football game between the Falcons and the Cincinnatti Bengals in Atlanta, Georgia October 24, 2010. REUTERS/Tami Chappell