Let's talk about domestic violence
Jane McManus and Sarah Spain reflect on the #YesAllWomen movement and its impact on the sports world.
McManus: The #YesAllWomen discussion got us in the gut last weekend. It started trending after yet another mass shooting left seven people dead in Santa Barbara, California. After another wrenching "Why would he do this?" investigation, this possible motive was unearthed: Apparently Elliot Rodger hated women, particularly the pretty ones who weren't into him.
Rodger's misogyny gave birth to a hashtag on social media that allowed women to talk about their own encounters with men who felt entitled to their bodies or beings, and about everyday battles that reflect the sexism so deeply ingrained in our culture.
Here are some samples:
Girls grow up knowing that it's safer to give a fake phone number than to turn a guy down. #yesallwomen pic.twitter.com/C9U5NOtGap- @katekilla May 24, 2014
Because my hormones make me an ineffective leader and a man's hormones absolve him of rape #yesallwomen pic.twitter.com/C9U5NOtGap- @TessaKerlin May 26, 2014
#YesAllWomen because yesterday an NFL "star" sat there while his wife apologized for him beating her.pic.twitter.com/C9U5NOtGap- @JulieDiCaro May 24, 2014
Let's take that last one, Sarah. In light of the #YesAllWomen movement, I couldn't help but notice the horrible proximity of the Ravens' press conference last Friday in their facility, live-tweeted by their PR staff, in which Jenay Rice apologized for her role in a disagreement that left her unconscious. Running back Ray Rice, who allegedly landed the punch that knocked her out, apologized to the guys who sign his checks but not the woman who absorbed the hit. As for the issue of domestic violence -- and this is a league where Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend before taking his own life -- the NFL and the Ravens have been spineless.
Spain: The Ravens and Rice have terribly mishandled this situation, but commissioner Roger Goodell still has a chance to change the conversation. Thus far, the league has failed to take a strong stance on violence against women, and the NFL code of conduct allows them plenty of freedom to continue that pattern.
Domestic violence falls under the NFL's personal conduct policy, a gray area that covers a litany of abuses. Goodell has a lot of discretion in dealing with personal conduct cases. For instance, in 2008 former Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington received a one-game suspension after being arrested for alleged domestic violence involving his girlfriend (he pleaded not guilty and was told by a judge he could avoid prosecution if he completed an intervention program and stayed out of trouble). In 2010 Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games (later reduced to four) after a sexual assault investigation for which he ultimately avoided charges. Both cases fell under the personal conduct policy.
The very public nature of Rice's abuse -- fans everywhere have seen the video -- makes how Goodell handles this case especially important. A league that is quick to punish marijuana use, insensitive tweets and wearing the wrong color shoes on Sunday needs to take a strong stance on this much larger and more important issue.
Rice could still face a suspension from the NFL. Any punishment handed down to him should send a message to players that the pervasiveness of domestic violence is unacceptable and, from this point forward, the penalties will be much harsher. In the time between Rice's casino incident and his press conference, another player was accused of domestic violence -- Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy.
Do you think the timing of the #YesAllWomen hashtag and Rice's press conference will result in NFL teams having more discussions about the issue? Maybe even spreading the conversation to other professional leagues?
McManus: I'm hoping it will open the conversation about misogyny in sports. The Rice example is just one, but there are plenty, as noted in some of the #YesAllWomen tweets that were posted in the last few days. This one, in particular, stood out to me:
because athletes are given sympathy for losing their sports careers after being put in jail for raping a teenage girl #YesAllWomen pic.twitter.com/C9U5NOtGap- @pxrrielouMay 24, 2014
Sometimes I think women are asked to tolerate a lot as sports fans. The Rice press conference is just the start. The way NBA fans were quick to recognize Donald Sterling's comments as racist in nature is a big step, and leagues are starting to be sensitive to homophobic behavior. Many still lag on misogyny, however.
But I was encouraged by this one, from a former Saints linebacker who has worked to mitigate homophobia in the NFL:
Fellas, instead of getting sensitive & defensive, let's try listening to them. #YesAllWomen pic.twitter.com/C9U5NOtGap- @sfujita55May 27, 2014
Spain: Sad, isn't it, when we have to draw our encouragement from one former NFL player supporting the conversation?
It's a start, I guess. Sexism in sports is merely a reflection of the larger issues of misogyny in society as a whole -- and there's no easy fix for either, so even baby steps should be encouraged.
In June 2012, the White House introduced its "1 is 2 Many" campaign, aimed at reducing violence against women. Several different PSAs have been released to support the movement, including one featuring athletes -- Eli Manning, Jeremy Lin, David Beckham and Evan Longoria. It was a step in the right direction, and every single one of the major pro sports should follow their lead, not only by releasing their own PSAs denouncing domestic violence, but also by requiring every single player to attend education sessions. Rice presenting his violent attack as a "growing and teaching moment" was offensive and wrong, but that doesn't mean his arrest can't, in the end, become a powerful tool for change in the NFL and beyond.
As you said, being a female sports fan sometimes requires having to accept little moments of misogyny everywhere. Cheerleaders, ice girls, WAG bikini galleries, the alternating sexualization or degradation of female athletes, using rape terms as a means of describing a team's dominance, making women and girls the butt of jokes when a man doesn't perform well ("He throws like a girl") or simply being left out of the conversation, since radio and TV hosts, writers and athletes too often address all fans as if they're male.
The only way to push for equality is to keep the conversation going. The #YesAllWomen discussion was a powerful start. My hope is that women keep sharing and men keep listening. #NotAllMen are the problem, but all men can help be part of the solution.