Women and football 'culture'

This past week marks one of my favorite weeks of the year, the beginning of football season. In addition to watching my favorite college and pro teams play, I also had a chance to watch my nephew, a sophomore in high school, experience his first varsity playing time in the season opener in my Southwest Montana hometown. This season more than others, however, I have also been more aware of (and disappointed with) the way values have been distorted by the big business football has become.

My disappointment started a few weeks ago when Notre Dame, my graduate school alma mater, announced that several players were being investigated as part of a cheating scam. As The New York Times reported on Aug. 19, “four football players – all probable starters – were suspected of being among several students who had cheated in class.” Though I would like to have confidence of expecting more from the Notre Dame football program, it seems that each year these types of stories are becoming more common. The football team I cheer for on Saturdays is becoming less and less a real reflection of the community and values I experienced while at Notre Dame.

Also leading up to the beginning of the season was the recent announcement by National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell that the league is starting to hold players and team personnel accountable for crimes of domestic violence. The announcement itself was a reminder that the NFL culture is a long way from fully recognizing the dignity of women, much less working to stop the cycle of domestic violence. When I first heard this announcement, I felt a sense of disappointment that the NFL had not long ago enacted a zero tolerance policy on violence in the home.

Since Sunday this issue has blown up with news that Baltimore Ravens star player Ray Rice has been terminated from the league after a security video surfaced showing him punching his fiancée in an elevator in Atlantic City. Since the video was released Monday morning on TMZ.com, a celebrity gossip site, the amount of commentary on the topic is endless. I have not watched the video nor do I plan to.

The response from the Ravens and the NFL was at best reactionary. An article that appeared late Monday afternoon in The New Yorker claims what the video really shows is how the NFL had failed to fully investigate the situation until the release of the video forced them to do so. Later in the day Raven’s coach John Harbaugh, known to be a practicing Catholic, appeared in a short press conference stating there was no question Rice had to be let go and that he will be praying for Rice and his wife, Janaya, that they can make it.

Last night I also had the chance to see The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart interview U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a talk that provided a short examination on how institutions, such as the NFL, determine women’s value in society. This interview reflected much of what I have been thinking this week in response to this story.

Stadiums have become bigger than churches and schools, and the salaries for professional athletes have become astronomical; this is funded by an institution that, as a fan, I support too. In light of the events of this week, I will be looking for ways to be more vocal about how women are treated by this institution, as I hope all women who are fans of the game will do. When my nephew runs out onto the field on Friday night I want the game he is playing and the coaches who mentor him to reinforce the values his parents have worked hard to teach him. I want his participation in the game to uphold the dignity of others.

[Colleen Dunne is development director for De La Salle Blackfeet School in Browning, Montana, and a former NCR Bertelsen intern in editorial and marketing.]