Meltdown at Midfield

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.

9 thoughts on “Meltdown at Midfield”

  1. Brendan:

    Looking at the comment below that I made last night (just before going to bed) in response to your comment, I could hear your concern as an educator. Being right there in the front lines in the war on children, its justified. I apologize if my earlier response was rote.

    The issues you bring up are at the heart of the Rice-NFL story, because outside of music, professional sports and the military, what hope do poor kids have of succeeding in the world? What skills are left off the table in the drive to move up and over in the world we have set up for this new generation?

    The educational system is not giving kids the ability to deal with what society is giving them, and its giving kids the one-two punch too early. Killing hope and high expectations is a policy. No wonder why kids tune out, or act out. Special emphasis on act out.

  2. Brendan:

    Great to cross paths again on the equinox and the eve of the new website launch for PW!

    I think for people of color, Black and Latino men and boys especially, I could understand it if their parents are wary of opening their sons’ eyes to the bigger world. It would make me scared to leave the house, let alone cope with the thought of losing your child to random or pre-meditated violence out there. And now everyone is dealing with the injustices served up by the police.

    QUESTION: Is there a common understanding of consequences in your students’ community? That one thing causes another? That circumstances and systems affect the consequences of an individual’s actions? Nothing is as cut and dried as society tells us.

    I feel as though I learned this early, but the lessons never really took hold until later in life: people got hurt by my thoughtlessness and lack of respect, or, barring that, my ignorance of what is and is not respectful. I learned hard lessons that shamed me to the core for my stupidity, but I thank the teachers brave enough to point it out to me, by their anger and by their willingness to be patient long enough to tell me that what I did hurt them.

    But it really wasn’t until I started working in jails that the best lessons in the larger tapestry were revealed about the role of the poor in this modern society, where human worth is down to units and the volume of incarceration was another marker for financial success. The entire system is rigged to profit, per capita on jailing or killing young men of color, and this has been easily tracked since the Reagan years, looking at incarceration stats since the years of welfare and sentencing reform. When you see what has happened in a short few decades, you’ll wonder if there was a deliberate plot to wipe out the 60s from our cultural memory. I think there was.

    Try to get on Daily Kos if you have time and search for the diaries of Bob Sloan, one of the best writers on the birth, growth and development of the Prison Industrial Complex In the US. Truly eye opening work. When you find some clear direct articles, bring them to class for the students to read. Its worth a look.

  3. Hello Fe and everyone,

    I’ve not seen the video of Rice and his wife in the elevator. I don’t want to see it as the only thing that will happen is that I will feel utterly sick to my stomach. Even though I’m a bit of a news junkie, that video and the IS beheadings are in the same league for me: I don’t need to seem them, because I know that what is shown is wrong. I am glad that I don’t have TV, actually.

    I had to do a bit of real teaching yesterday about the video, as one of my students was lightly defending Rice’s actions as “nothing big.” I didn’t get angry, but I told him in no uncertain terms that behavior like that is never, ever appropriate, and that even if Janay Rice defended Ray, that still didn’t excuse his violence in any way. He plays football at my school, I’ve known him for four years now, and this attitude did not surprise me at all. He’s simply never heard anything other than what he gets from television or the internet, most of it sports oriented and not “issues” oriented. I do think I got him to look at this in a different way, let’s hope it sticks.

    Fe, I love this: “There is a common thread of violence woven throughout our social fabric. If we unravel them, will the tapestry collapse?” What young men (and young women) like my student need is to be shown the connections in the tapestry. Current school curricula don’t teach this of course, and the new Common Core certainly doesn’t. Even the students of color at my school aren’t able to make the connections entirely: I have one African-Hispanic student, who is not that socially aware or adept shall I say. He has only lived in the area of rural Arizona where we are now, with only short exposures to outside life elsewhere, either rural or urban. I was very honest with him one day, and told him what he needed to do if stopped by the police. He had no idea that most young men of color in this country have suffered or will suffer at the hands of the police. How do we get him to understand the whole and complex tapestry that he faces? Yes, he has cognition disabilities, and he can’t always see every side to any story, but he truly scares me with his lack of self-awareness. I don’t want him to be that way.

    What do we do for him and the rest of our young people? We know the tapestry, its colors, its patterns, and its deadly details. How do we make the next generation aware?

  4. a word:

    You describe perfectly the act of dismantling the compartmentalization that many use to cope with abuse. Reason by reason, the choices are made to stay or go.

    I have been there. Thank you so much for sharing this. Its exactly the dialogue we need to have.

  5. When I understood that what I was experiencing in my marriage was abuse, there was no question that supporting the abuser in any way from that point forward was unacceptable. And with my eyes then opening wider each day, our culture became more and more a living example of what needs to shift. Loosing financial security and my career were not factors in the decision to leave, yet “leaving” is one of the choices that is most difficult for women or men who are abused–especially considering how closely tied that choice is to other securities they depend upon.

    ‘Win at all costs’ is the same policy that is stagnating our government causing standstill and backward motion. I am only grateful that situations such as this are high profile enough to get the attention that we need to give to them – perhaps we may yet raise enough awareness to achieve balance. And to perhaps make sports “sporting” again.
    Thank you, Fe (and Len and Be).

  6. be:

    Never would have made a connection with you as a horsewoman!!

    Yes indeed, there is a cost to spectacle, and we have the opportunity to look at it and ourselves in the midst of a “football crisis” of confidence in the sport. Not like spousal abuse did not occur back in the day (it did and probably was a lot worse than what happened to Janay), but the times and the media are opening a door for us to really look at it.

    I am also thinking about our attraction to war, violence and guns in general these days. There is a common thread of violence woven throughout our social fabric. If we unravel them, will the tapestry collapse?

  7. I feel for you Fe, I had a similar blow when what was a beloved sport, horse-racing, was exposed for it’s cruelty to those animals. Talk about having the blinders on, now I can’t even watch the Kentucky Derby anymore. Honestly though, I wonder if this story would have had so much coverage had it not been such a slow “news” month, what with the Legislators in recess.

    In these cases our “heroes” have a Neptune-like persona, like the movie stars of Hollywood. They portray super-sized Supermen on the field (or our screens) and it seems many of them begin to believe the hype about themselves. Stories have been published about the attraction between these men and their adoring fans, particularly the young women, some of whom become their wives. I don’t believe this is always a one-sided tragedy, but suspect some of the women (not the kids) who are brutalized are unconsciously enablers. Much re-programming is needed, not just for the players and their families, but for those of us in the audience too.

  8. Thanks Len, for summing it up. We have much to reckon with the NFL. I would be glad if they would be relieved of their non-profit status, though I am not certain that could be done legally.

  9. Fe: Thank you for giving words to my feelings. My epiphany of being sickened by watching football came years ago, and has only been reinforced with the NFL’s latest affront to common decency. Your reference to Eric’s milestone piece earlier this year (and the quote Lee Lehman ring more true now than then – tragically so). Now that (as you put it) “protecting the brand” and the cash flow that comes of it has been revealed to be a greater priority for the NFL than common decency, comparison to the abuses of the Roman Catholic church (and the church’s similar response) is not only appropriate but indicative of something deeper and more pervasive – what you called “our role.” Yes, there is a lot of responsibility to go around.

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