I’ve mentioned in previous articles that I didn’t grow up watching football. In fact, my father had a distinct disdain for it. I started watching football as a teenager because my friend circle was largely male, and I was attempting to understand this sport in an effort to contribute to conversations about it. I never thought I’d be as passionate about it as I am today, but football, and the Packers especially, drew me in with their love, community, and energy.
Football has long been regarded as a “male space”. The media is full of examples of the “dumb blonde” who doesn’t understand the game, and the general assumption is that it’s still largely a male dominated fan base. On the flip side, a couple of years ago an author at the Washington Post wrote a piece on how women are the NFL’s most important demographic. In this piece, they note that 45 percent of NFL’s regular viewers are women. Female viewership of the NFL is rising faster than male, and supposedly, the NFL wants more female officials.
So why doesn’t the NFL care more about women?
Overall, the NFL community has not been that… great to women. 33 players were arrested on charges involving domestic violence, battery, assault, or murder between January 2012 and September of 2014 alone. We thought the NFL learned their lesson in 2014 after the outrageous handling of Ray Rice. In case you may have forgotten, video showed Rice dragging Janay Palmer out of an elevator by her hair. The NFL suspended him for 2 games and fined him $58,000. A month later, after significant outrage, Goodell updated the NFL’s domestic violence policy to include a 6 game suspension for first time violators and a lifetime ban for repeat offenders. To this end, when a second video surfaced with Rice punching Palmer in the face, his contract was cut. The NFL claims they never knew about this video. Sounds suspiciously similar to their claims regarding Josh Brown, right? So why is it, that when Brown was arrested for domestic violence he was only suspended for ONE game. Additionally, it was later discovered that Brown had signed a “Contract for Change” more than two years before the initial arrest where he admitted he had abused his wife. Finally, in October 2016, his contract with the Giants was ended.
Stories like this, in addition to the concussion issues which I cannot even begin to cover in this piece, make it very hard to defend being a football fan. I know very well the culture I am buying in to, and it turns my stomach to think about it.
The issues do not end with the players either.
Sarah Spain (ESPN Sports Commentator) recently wrote a piece with the New York Magazine about the constant misogyny and sexism she has to deal with on the job. Sarah Thomas became the first female referee in 2015, and while that was a huge step, it felt very late in the game and was met with some disgusting backlash. For f***’s sake, they can’t even pay their cheerleaders minimum wage!!! Are you kidding me? You can pay Josh Brown 4 MILLION dollars, but the cheerleaders who spend more time on the field than any player can’t even make minimum wage? Explain how this would hurt your bottom line, please.
The NFL and its fanbase certainly is not all bad. I have been lucky enough to be a part of the team here at Pack to the Future, and this group is one of the most welcoming and supportive I have had the pleasure of working with. So where does that leave us? What can we, and more importantly the NFL, do to make this better? I have two suggestions:
- Keep demanding change. Keep burning jerseys of dirt bags, keep writing outraged articles on allowing abusers to stay in the game. Continue being vocal about the issues.
- Welcome women into the NFL world! If your girlfriend/wife/friend/SO/Coworker/mom/sister/woman in the bar has questions about the game, explain it to them. It’s fine to wait until after Rodgers makes that final out-of-pocket pass, but don’t brush them off. Invite them to play in your fantasy league; worst case scenario you get a proverbial bye week.
I am very proud of the minimal scandals the Packers have given me over the years. It’s a big reason why I am so proud to be a fan. There are few places I have more fun than in front of the screen on Sundays, but this needs to stop. I need to stop being embarrassed of the league as a whole.
If the NFL truly wants more female officials, here is my challenge to them: Treat women, both on and off the field, with the same respect you give Tom Brady. We aren’t perfect, but we deserve basic human decency.