I’m not sure if many Planet Waves readers are sports enthusiasts like I am, but I confess that yes, I am a baseball- and football-loving nut from the Central Coast of California. That is hardwired into my system.
I am also a writer on culture and women’s issues. The affinity for such disparate interests as sports, art, women’s issues and popular culture has always co-existed comfortably inside me, and I drew upon those wide personal preferences to self-identify as a woman comfortable and conversant in non gender-stereotypical issues and interests.
But now we live in a world where the Internet exposes humanity’s dark side on a by-the-minute basis, and the videotape of former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice and his wife Janay in the elevator where he beat her unconscious has changed the game. I can’t bring myself to watch it anymore. The tape replay or football in general.
Initially, there were two sides of this story playing out in the court of public opinion: one that cavalierly dismissed the incident, calling the Rices’ altercation a domestic squabble and responding with “nothing-more-to-see-here, let’s-move-on”; in the other, Ray Rice is an abuser whom the NFL aided and abetted by covering up the story. As the story unfolded this month, we found that the NFL lied about knowing what they knew, and lied when regarding the brutality of the Rices’ elevator altercation. The NFL was sitting on the tape for six months and did nothing until that tape was released by TMZ.
It is that story that now has center stage, and the NFL is in crisis-control mode, scrambling for answers in an attempt to save the NFL brand, and maybe doing more than a little soul searching. In the world where Ray, Janay and most of America exists, the intense scrutiny the NFL is now under is miraculous in that it’s happening at all.
Professional football in America is more than a game, it is a religion. And the NFL is about as close as a multi-billion-dollar non-profit corporation can get to being the Catholic Church. The shambles that the Rice incident has made of the NFL brand was probably as inevitable as it was transparent. Now given this and other scandals, there is a Congressional inquiry and a call to examine the NFL’s non-profit status. How can you sell machismo 24-7 for billions of dollars a year in advertising revenue, and not expect to see some blowback in what your promotion creates? For anyone like me, a football fan and female, it makes you pause midfield, questioning why it is that you watch.
In Eric’s article “Use Your head,” published around the time of the Super Bowl this past January, he quotes astrologer Lee Lehman:
“Football is a dangerous sport, and based on the charts for the founding of the NFL, and for the first Super Bowl, it is precisely that danger which has added to the league’s success. This is exactly what these charts proclaim,” said Lee Lehman, a leader in the field of classical astrology, and a pioneer in the development of asteroids as astrological tools.
Based on the position of Mars in these charts, she said, “We have literally the story of the gladiators, who are just as compelling crumpled up on a heap on the playing field as making a spectacular catch. That is what the arena is for: the winners triumph, and the losers are carried out on a stretcher.”
In the midst of this, the NFL chart shows Venus conjunct Saturn in Virgo, which is suppression of feminine energy, subordinating it to a corporate structure. The women of the NFL — the wives and family of NFL players — are pretty much a back story, not central to ‘the brand’. Yet it is they who deal with the aftermath during and after a game, a season, a husband’s career. It was Janay Rice who spoke up when the incident began gathering steam, earlier this month defending her husband’s position even after exposure of the brutality of his blows in the elevator were shown on tape. The security of her family and home, as well as the pressure from the promotion industry that attached itself to Ray, was in doubt. Janay had no choice but to step up and defend — if nothing else, to keep their home and family financially intact.
Personally, it’s hard for me not to feel sorry for what has happened to the Rices. Ray Rice’s permanent suspension from football by the NFL was handed out before a policy on domestic violence was even developed, and is just one of the many stupid tragedies that could have been avoided if the league was coherent about its human resources policies in the first place. Or if it was conscious of its attitude towards its female audience, which is 45% of its viewer base. Whether we like it or not, the NFL’s judgment could afford Ray Rice an opportunity to appeal.
The league talks a good game about providing role models for American youth, yet fails to see the cost of having its ‘blinders on’ when promoting the violence that is football. Violence which, on and off the field, is taken for granted. Yet, in light of the tape’s revelation and the NFL’s bungling attempt to fix it fast, our local football commentator Ted Robinson was suspended by the 49ers from reporting on their football games for two weeks due to his cavalier remarks about the Rice incident. This is how serious the tape’s damage was to the industry.
Robinson was on the air yesterday after a stint in sensitivity training to report back to his listening audience. Watching Ray Rice hitting his wife so hard that she was knocked unconscious was similar, he said, “to watching the Zapruder film” — the one that captured the shooting death of President John F. Kennedy.
I was taken back by the seriousness of the analogy. How could one domestic tragedy related to football compare to the murder of a head of state?
And then I remembered. Win at all costs is how we operate: in sports, personal life, business and policy. It’s part of our culture, the bread and circus of our empire, sanctioned from boys to men. From the league to the owners to the players, to the sportscasters, agents, advertisers, promoters and the families of those involved. And the fans. Of course the fans. We all own it. We live it and breathe it as ‘just how it is’ in football, and in America. It’s the tacit acceptance of violence as a cultural expression, and even as a political act.
Watching as Janay slumps unconscious in an elevator, hit hard by her husband who was trained by profession to do so along with his peers in the league, Robinson and the rest of us realized what our role in this is as well. It’s time for us to stand midfield, and take a deeper look.