by Jerome Grapel…….
Masculine gender violence has become a high profile issue in our society, made even more salient by the rash of such behavior originating in the culture of professional football. That such behavior seems to exceed the average in this environment is not that surprising.
I’ve had the opportunity to be an athletic participant at a large university. Although each sport is a segregated activity, all the athletes play under the umbrella of a single institution and a particular Athletic Director. This creates a certain degree of communication and familiarity amongst all the “jocks”. I don’t think I’d be risking too much credibility if I said that within this athletic community, those who could be considered the most — and I’ll be nice here — “eccentric”, would be the football players.
For the average human being, the idea of violently colliding with each other every 30 seconds or so, is not an attractive option. If this is what turns you on; if this is something that brings joy to your life, then it might be said you are operating in a parallel universe, one where most of us don’t want to go. If this kind of violence is not only how you feel fulfillment, but your path to fame, adulation and wealth, it is not that difficult to see some of this behavior bleeding over into your personal life. At the university stage of existence, a certain kind of furniture smashing, dormitory hi-jinx always seemed more common to the football players. At a later, more mature (?) stage of life, these tendencies can take on darker, more satanic attributes.
Put simply, you have to be a little nuts to be a good football player.
But when it comes to the bearded side of the gender divide, I’m not about to let the rest of us off the hook. In a society that has been male dominated for as far back as history can remember, I’d say even the most enlightened amongst us “faux macho men” still carry around some traces of male chauvinism. My initial reaction to the now infamous Ray Rice incident might throw some light on this assertion.
Rice, of course, is the well known football player who was caught by hotel security cameras one punching his girl friend into oblivion. My guess is that most of you remember the recorded evidence: the couple was obviously not having a good day and by the time they entered an elevator to adjourn for the night, the ill feelings had boiled over to the point where the woman lost her composure. With a hateful scowl etched into her face, with her fists clenched at her side and her head thrust forward, she advanced on Rice with what boxing people call “bad intentions”. Regardless of who the aggressor was at this moment, what Rice did — and I remind the reader he is a muscular, world class athlete with perhaps a 100 pound advantage on his feminine attacker — was not only unacceptable from a moral standpoint, but recklessly dangerous. He laid her out with a right hand to the jaw that — and I do not think it is unreasonable to suggest this — could have killed her.
It’s embarrassing to admit the first thoughts that popped into my mind when seeing this spectacle, thoughts that perhaps still confirm the generations and generations of emotional sickness my gender has been inculcated with, thoughts that still linger in our innards like a perpetual sour stomach. I thought — “gee, someone’s gotta teach that woman (or did I think a worse word?) not to lead with her head”.
There, I said it. I’ll accept whatever ill will comes my way for it. I cannot defend such a cavalier attitude, but I can try to mitigate it.
By the time I saw this video for the first time, the world already knew the woman involved was going to “stand by her man”. This seems to be a fairly common occurrence in these incidents. Many studies have been done in trying to unravel the motivations for such a syndrome. The conclusions set forth by the agglomerated work of such studies often seem plausible, rational and acceptable. I accept them. But I also reserve the right to say this: somewhere along the line, a human being has to take a stand, has to draw a line, has to delineate a threshold for unforgivable behavior. If Rice’s girl friend can assimilate being knocked unconscious for 10 minutes into her long term relationship with him — what am I supposed to think? How should I feel? Honestly, I don’t really know at this point, but I do know my empathy for her has been challenged. This is especially so in this particular case. It did not happen in a dysfunctional, narrow, ignorant environment. The couple had been together since high school and had reaped the benefits of Rice’s celebrity. They’d known the good life. They’d been around. The victim herself is uber attractive, articulate and intelligent. Her options in life would seem both positive and infinite. And yet … go figure.
This essay was inspired by the latest NFL domestic abuse incident involving one Greg Hardy. Hardy is one of those mammoth creatures whose primary job is to chase quarterbacks in the hope of eventually dishing out the physical brutality they deserve. Unfortunately, he seems to have confused his now ex-girlfriend with a quarterback, such mayhem being duly recorded pictorially for all to see. This has caused the usual outrage across the broad sweep of American culture, an outrage that has been distilled down into the following question: should Hardy be allowed to play in the NFL?
There is a certain group of people here who are not being called out for the abject hypocrisy their outrage represents. I’ll call this group the consumers of the football product and I’ll get back to them.
I’ve never felt the NFL or MLB or the NBA, etc., has any right to discipline its players for anything they do in their private lives. In my estimation, there are only 2 entities that have such a right: 1) the law, and-or 2) the people who pay them.
What we call the NFL is a creation of the entrepreneurs trying to make money through the game of football. It is primarily their public relations mechanism and its job is to provide the best environment possible for pecuniary success in this business. The NFL does not invest in the overhead of doing business in football, nor does it collect the money that covers this overhead. The NFL works for those who do provide these functions (the owners of the teams). The NFL is akin to something like the American Dairy Association, or even the NRA, whose real job is to protect the interests of those who sell guns. None of these entities — and least of all the NFL, whose foundation for success is laid over massive amounts of gambling — should ever take on the role of some kind of “morality police”.
In many cases, whatever the law sanctions the transgressor with (or doesn’t sanction) is deemed insufficient by that fickle, ambiguous concept known as “public opinion”. If there were ever an instance where the unbridled power of the market place should decide these issues, this is it. This kind of market leverage can be applied in 2 primary ways: 1) the abandonment of sponsorship by those businesses not wanting to be associated with such behavior, and 2) a mutiny in fan base support. With regard to the latter — and this is where the hypocrisy spoken of earlier comes into play — I’ve never seen it be a factor.
Sponsorship pressure played a role in punishing Ray Rice way beyond what the NFL had deemed proper (the law never acted in Rice’s case). In fact, it pretty much ended his playing career. But another factor cannot be overlooked. Rice had a lot of mileage on his football career and was already at that tipping point where he was beginning to not be what he used to be. His team, the Baltimore Ravens, that is, those who paid his check, had to make a market driven business decision. Was Rice’s football talent worth the public relations-sponsorship negativity?
The Greg Hardy case is somewhat more complicated. For one thing, the beastly qualities that make a defensive lineman a valued commodity are at their most mature expression in Greg Hardy. His value as an athlete is still intact. But Hardy, unlike Rice, has been in and out of trouble with some consistency throughout his career. When this latest spate of domestic violence went public, his then team, the San Francisco 49’ers, decided it was just not worth the hassle to have him around. In addition, he had been sanctioned by the law, putting his football career on hold. When his penal debt to society had been fulfilled, the question was — would anyone let him play football?
Once again, as it should be, the “market” was being asked its opinion. And along comes Jerry Jones, the flamboyant owner of the league’s signature franchise, the Dallas Cowboys; along comes Jerry Jones, Donald Trump with a southern twang; along comes Jerry Jones, the embodiment of Texas pinky ring ostentation and wealth, to give Greg Hardy a “second chance” (or was it a 3rd or 4th?). I can use this guy. He can bust some heads. He can make me some money.
And you know what? Jerry was right. In spite of the distaste and general all around feeling of ill will Hardy’s return generated, it had all pretty much blown over when, for the first time in this case, some photographic evidence of what Hardy had done to this woman went public. And the public opinion outrage meter went ballistic. Something should be done. This man should not be playing in the NFL. The guillotine!
This is where we stand right now. Jerry Jones, the man who pays Greg Hardy, has a business decision to make. The ball is in his court. If he decides to stay with Hardy, which is what he seems to be doing, this means he is sending the ball back to the consumer of the football product.
So here you are, average football fan, you are disgusted by Greg Hardy. He’s a beast, an animal, he’s not worthy of playing in the NFL. But you know what, average football fan, I think you are full of you know what. Will you stop going to Dallas Cowboy games? Will you stop buying their merchandise? Will you stop watching them on TV? Will you use your leverage to make Jerry Jones comply? Yeah, fat chance of that. Your football fix is much more important to you than a defenseless woman battered by a 300 pound man. And I’ll go even further: if Greg Hardy was terrorizing quarterbacks as you’d hoped; if he were leading the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs, you’d be loving Greg Hardy. Admit it.
In a way, I agree with Jerry Jones. Hardy was prosecuted, he did his time, he’s a free man with the right to work. If you, average football fan, don’t like what Jones has done (I don’t.), then show your displeasure with action. Otherwise, just shut up.