Oh man, I am so going to hell for that headline. As you’ve probably read elsewhere, former Saints S Darren Sharper was recently canned from his analyst job at the NFL Network after being charged with multiple rapes and named a suspect in at least 4 other instances of sexual assault. The Nation’s Dave Zirin cannot help but note Sharper’s brushes with the law come on the heels of Jovan Belcher executing his girlfriend and a published report that more than two-thirds of the league’s 32 clubs had at one time or another last year, included a player with a domestic violence or sexual assault charge on his record on their rosters. “At what point,” asks Zirin, “do the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell confront the constant, haunting league-wide presence of violence against women?”
It is stunning that an NFL, which wants to police how players talk to each other on the field and has announced plans to institute an entire new set of guidelines around “locker room conduct,” does not address this publicly. It is stunning that an NFL, which tries to cultivate and grow its female fan base by trussing players in pink for a full month out of the season to display their seriousness in the fight against breast cancer, is silent on the question of violence against women. It is stunning that Roger Goodell, who believes that players should be “role models,” does not address the kind of behavior that is being modeled.
This is about more than violence. It is about a locker-room environment that sees women as little more than “road beef.” Amidst the infamous text messages between Miami Dolphins offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, lost among the racial taunts and homophobic jibes, were the discussions of “bitches,” “hooker parties,” “strippers who go the extra mile,” and Incognito’s boast that “I was doing work last night. I got those girls hammered.” This is the same Richie Incognito who received second chance after second chance, no matter how many accusations of sexual assault were levied against him throughout his career in college and the pros. The entire Incognito saga could have been avoided if the league had a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women. They don’t, so it wasn’t.
No, the connective tissue between football and rape culture is not created in the NFL, as Incognito’s own history demonstrates. We know too much from stories that span from high schools in Steubenville and Maryville to colleges like Vanderbilt, Notre Dame and Missouri to think that it possibly starts in the pros. But shouldn’t the NFL be where it ends?