Tuesday, September 9, 2014

For shame...

When I was a teenage girl, my bedroom was wallpapered with posters of all the stars that I loved most. The list is more than a little embarrassing. I mean, it includes the New Kids on the Block and Kirk Cameron... You know, the regular crew that appeared in all of those teeny-bopper magazines back in the 80s. But it also includes professional athletes. Like World Series winning David Justice of the Atlanta Braves and the forward-who-once-had-the-hardest-slapshot-in-the-NHL, Stéphane Richer of the Montreal Canadians. Okay, also a little embarrassing... But my point is that I didn't just idolize sitcom stars and singers. I idolized professional athletes. 

I admit it... I idolized guys like Richer and Justice partly because I thought they were cute (oh so embarrassing). But I also just really loved sports. I loved what these guys could do. I loved how talented they were. I loved how they led their teams. When they won, I won. When they lost, I lost. My life became wrapped up in their on-the-field/on-the-ice performances. As did the lives of most of my peers who idolized their own respective professional heroes. We'd gather around at recess to trade baseball and hockey cards and talk about our heroes. Because that is what they were to us young, impressionable kids. These athletes were our heroes.

Which is why I am disappointed in the NFL. No, disappointed isn't a strong enough word. Sickened, is a better one. Sickened with a healthy dose of enraged.

By now, everybody knows the story about Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens. On Feb 15, he was caught on surveillance tape dragging his fiancée out of an elevator. He admits that he hit her, and in an interview with the League and the team, at which Rice was present, she tells everyone that she provoked him and that he's actually a good guy. One month later, they get married. Following a hearing, the NFL gives Rice a 2-game suspension. Then yesterday, TMZ released full video surveillance of the entire elevator episode, so the world can now see first hand 8 vile seconds during which Rice punched his fiancé in the face - twice - causing her to fall backwards so that her head hit the handrail, knocking her out cold. He then dragged her body out of an elevator.

The NFL claims that it hadn't seen the video before making its decision on a 2-game suspension. Now that they have, they have suspended him indefinitely, and he has been released by the Baltimore Ravens.

Neither the NFL nor the team should have had to see the video before making these decisions.

And here's why. Because millions of little boys grow up watching these guys on the field, and end up wanting to be these guys both on AND off the field. And when they see their idols smacking a woman around with no repercussions, it sends them the wrong message. How does that stop the devastating cycle of violence against women? It doesn't. And the league and the franchise should have known that, even before they saw the severity of the assault.

But here's what really bothers me about it. Millions of little girls also grow up watching these guys on the field. They idolize these men. Some of them dream of ending up with a guy like that.

And some of them do.

What are we teaching our girls if one of the biggest mass producers of media for public consumption, the NFL, is condoning domestic violence through its abhorrent protection of players who hit women?

We're teaching them that it is okay to be hit. Especially if the guy doing the hitting is semi-famous and adored by throngs of fans. Especially if the guy doing the hitting has a SuperBowl ring or two. And especially if the guy doing the hitting is just so important that his team couldn't possibly live without him for more than 2 games.

The NFL and the Baltimore Ravens want us all to think that they did the right thing today by taking action against Rice and unveiling a new "policy" on domestic violence. Don't let them fool you. All they have done is sent a message that violence against women is okay. Or at least it's okay until you get caught on video.