It Goes Beyond Football

by | September 17, 2014, 4:18am 18

I’ve been an NFL fan most of my life, but I’m not watching any games this season.

My discomfort with the league has been growing slowly over the last few seasons. It began with the devastating impact football has on the players. How could I ethically enjoy watching men actually destroy each other? In wrestling with this question I was greatly influenced by the players’ perspective. They are grown men and can decide for themselves.  I still wake up in the middle of the night with shoulder pain, I’ll be doing back and hamstring rehab for the rest of my life, and my ankles stick, but I made the choice to play and play recklessly. If I had to make the choice again, knowing what the cost would be, I’d make the same one. So if athletes want to take the risk, that’s their choice. My problem is with a league that has more than enough resources to take care of its players and doesn’t. My problem is with a league that hides evidence from its players to avoid lawsuits and payouts. Take care of your people. It’s that simple.

Despite all this, I kept watching– until the Ray Rice-Janay Palmer press conference. This press conference is disgusting. It is made more revolting by the Ravens organization live tweeting that Janay Palmer ‘regretted her role’ in the incident. So I cut ties. I quit watching, I quit reading ESPN.com, I quit following NFL podcasts, I killed my fantasy leagues, and I moved my family’s traditional Monday Night Football pizza making party to Thursday. Ray Rice’s ludicrous 2-game suspension only cemented my decision.

Then, gloriously, Roger Goodell did something that actually made sense: he ‘enacted’ a domestic violence policy that called for a six-game suspension for first offenses and a lifetime ban for repeat offenders. I was free to watch again! Yes! I watched Seahawks-Packers and listened to my usual podcasts for a couple of days. But Ray McDonald played. And Greg Hardy played. Then the video from the inside of the elevator got released.

It’s kind of weird to say, but the NFL threw Ray Rice under the bus. It implies that there is sympathy for what he experiencing right now, when really, I want the focus to be on the NFL– which is exactly where they don’t want it to be! If this whole giant mess can be about Ray Rice, then it isn’t about the NFL, it’s just about one messed up guy. Or about a good dude who made a mistake. Or whatever, so long as this whole mess isn’t about the NFL. Again, the tipping point for me was something unexpected: it was the Thursday night game between the Steelers and the Ravens. As a Seahawks fan, I’ve always had some antipathy toward the Steelers, but after Ben Roethlisberger got away with raping two women and the so-called ‘high character organization’ Pittsburgh Steelers did nothing, my dislike crystallized into genuine disdain and loathing. So to have the Steelers playing the Ravens immediately after the entire nation watched Ray Rice club his fiance senseless…I don’t really know how to explain what I felt. I just knew I wasn’t going to be watching any football.

What business does any of this conversation have in a Frisbee blog? First, I can’t stress how important it is to have these conversations (and I’ve had a lot recently). As a nation, we don’t deal with domestic violence. And we need to. It isn’t a private issue or a family issue, it’s a public problem, a community issue. Secondly, ask yourself this: can you see an ultimate player doing what Ray Rice did and then playing the next weekend at Regionals? Can you see an ultimate player doing what Roethlisberger did and playing at Regionals? I don’t think we should be so naive as to think that domestic violence and sexual assault don’t happen in the ultimate community; there are too many people and too much alcohol. But neither domestic violence nor sexual assault would be tolerated by the ultimate world like they are tolerated in the NFL and other professional sports. During my 25 years in ultimate, I’ve known of only a handful of incidents, and in those incidents, the community reacted strongly (although sometimes slowly) in support of the women. So this Sunday, I’ll be headed to watch Northwest Regionals.

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  • neeley

    Readers,

    I want to fill you in on a conversation that Lou and I had last night before filing this post. In his final paragraph, Lou writes that it'd be naive to think the ultimate community immune from domestic violence and sexual assault. That's true. If you look at statistics for the general population– estimates on the chances that a woman in the US will experience domestic violence at some point in her life range from 8% to over 20%*, and a recent report from an Obama-commissioned task force reports that 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted in college**– the number of people who play and the prevalence of drinking say that it's almost certainly happening in ultimate's little enclave of society.

    Our discussion was about the inclusion of "and too much alcohol." Did we keep it in because the facts say that alcohol plays a role in so many instances of domestic violence and sexual assault? Or did we leave it out because it could imply that alcohol could be labeled a culprit, shifting blame away from perpetrators themselves? It wasn't an argument; neither of us were sure. We ended up leaving it in because we thought that in this case, including that variable did more to ensure that this sliver of the greater conversation verbalized one of the dangerous realities that's out there: alcohol can make partying more dangerous.

    Like Lou says in his post, these conversations are important. I hope people are willing to have them.

    Jonathan Neeley
    Skyd Senior Editor

    * http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S1516-4446200
    ** http://harpers.org/blog/2014/09/ending-college-se

    • Guest

      The "one in five figure" is super misleading, especially when you try to present it as a recent study.

      From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campus_rape#Prevalen

      "In 1985, Mary Koss, a professor of psychology at Kent State University, conducted a national rape survey on college campuses in the United States, sponsored by the National Institute of Health…Out of the 3,187 undergraduate women Koss surveyed, 207, or 6%, had been raped within the past year. 15.4 percent of Koss' female respondents had been raped since age 14, an additional 12.1 percent of female respondents had experienced attempted rape since age 14…The combined figure for rape and attempted rape of women since age 14, 27.5 percent, became known as the "one in four" statistic.[5]

      According to Christina Hoff Sommers, the Koss study and the oft-quoted "one in four" statistic is based upon flawed data. One of the three questions used by Koss to calculate rape prevalence was, "Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn't want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?" According to Sommers and professor Neil Gilbert, this left the door open for anyone who regretted a sexual liaison to be counted as a rape victim, even if neither partner thought of the situation as abusive.[5]

      Other studies of the time, such as those by scholars Margaret Gordon and Linda George, found much lower measured rape prevalence,[5] with their research simply asking women if they had been raped rather than asking behaviorally specific questions…..

      In 1997, The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) conducted the National College Women Sexual Victimization (NCWSV) survey…According to that survey, 1.7% of women had experienced a rape and another 1.1% had experienced an attempted rape."

      From http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/economic-inte

      "The Bureau of Justice Statistics' "Violent Victimization of College Students" report tells a different and more plausible story about campus culture. During the years surveyed, 1995-2002, the DOJ found that there were six rapes or sexual assaults per thousand per year. Across the nation's four million female college students, that comes to about one victim in forty students. Other DOJ statistics show that the overall rape rate is in sharp decline: since 1995, the estimated rate of female rape or sexual assault victimizations has decreased by about 60 percent.

      Bolstered by inflated statistics and alarmist depictions of campus culture, advocates have been successful in initiating policy changes designed to better protect victims of sexual violence….It is not clear that these policies have made campuses safer places for women, but they have certainly made them treacherous places for falsely accused men."

      Additionally, if the one in five statistic was true, that is an insane amount of sexual assault happening in college. Even if only half of that is reported, it'd be a huge scandal.

    • guest

      Thank you for the clarification. It's important not to fall into the trope of victim-blaming when discussing sexual assault and domestic abuse, and the "too much alcohol" line could absolutely be interpreted that way. Physical & sexual harassment definitely exists in the ultimate community and I agree that it's important to talk about. I hope you're right and that folks at large in the ultimate community wouldn't tolerate these incidents…but the statistics speak for themselves. Saying things like "WE don't tolerate THAT BEHAVIOR" may invalidate the experiences of folks who HAVE been assaulted within the ultimate community (by making it seem that their experience doesn't happen at all or that often). I don't think this is the intent here, but I do think that it may make it harder for victims of trauma to come forward.

  • Lindsey

    Thank you so much for writing this article.

    In regards to traumatic brain injuries that football players experience (for a information article on the topic see: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/10/19/offe… – I agree that players have a choice to play or not. The issue though is that many of those making a choice to play are those who are not fully educated on the actual dangers of football. And, they are not educated because quite simply they do not come from an educated background. You do not see many kids playing in those hard hitting positions that come from affluent, educated backgrounds (those kids are usually in protected positions like QB and kickers). Too many young, uneducated males see football as "the way out" of poverty, when really it is not at all (or only temporarily).

    I miss football, but I just can not give them ratings anymore. It sickens me and until we all start showing our disapproval by turning off the TV, they wont do a damn thing to change it. Money talks in corporate America.

    • Guest

      "You do not see many kids playing in those hard hitting positions that come from affluent, educated backgrounds (those kids are usually in protected positions like QB and kickers). " Is there evidence for this claim? Genuinely curious.

      • dave

        I am curious too. I have always been under the impression, for example, that many offensive linemen are extremely smart guys…and often from affluent backgrounds.

        • Jake

          NFL draft players take a test called the wonderlic to measure their cognitive ability.

          Here is a good article about it. http://www.assessmentpsychology.com/nfl.htm

          Quick summary to best answer your question is this – the average scores by position:

          "Offensive Tackle – 26
          Center – 25
          Quarterback – 24
          Guard – 23
          Tight End – 22
          Safety – 19
          Linebacker – 19
          Cornerback – 18
          Wide receiver – 17
          Fullback – 17
          Halfback – 16"

          And to put scores into more perspective:

          "Perfect scores
          Pat McInally is the only football player to record a confirmed perfect score of 50. Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Harvard University graduate like McInally, has also been rumored to have scored a perfect score of 50 [1]. However, he later claimed to have left at least one of the 50 answer spaces blank [2], leading the media to question his perfect score.[2]. However, the Wall Street Journal reported that Fitzpatrick's actual score was 38 (still considered excellent), but that the figure of nine minutes is accurate.

          Average scores for ordinary people
          While an average football player usually scores around 20 points, The Wonderlic, Inc claims a score of at least 10 points suggests a person is literate [3]. Furthermore, when the test was given to miscellaneous people of various professions, it was observed that the average participant scored a 24. Examples of scores from everyday professions included,

          Chemist – 31
          Programmer – 29
          News writer – 26
          Sales – 24
          Bank teller – 22
          Clerical Worker – 21
          Security Guard – 17
          Warehouse – 15"

  • Definitely a great conversation to have. I think that the biggest thing to remember in this whole conversation is the the kids are watching. Star athletes in any sport are idolized by youth players, and can extend a large amount of influence on those kids. Because of this, it is imperative that athletes act as positive role models. As our sport continues to grow we are creating star athletes through the expansion of pro leagues and increased video taping of club/college games. My youth players are definitely idolizing the likes of Brodie, Beau, and others (Nutt here in NC); and are watching their every move, trying to model their play. I don't know if our stars are ready for this responsibility, mostly because I don't think that many of them have been told. I agree with Lou that we as a community do a better job than the NFL in dealing with issues like domestic abuse, but I wonder whether or not we promote our party culture too much. If I were a parent of a potential player, I would be wary of a sport that celebrates alcohol consumption as much as ours does. i suppose that this a part of the struggle we are having with pro-leagues as our sport matures and develops.

  • Issy

    I am sure you are aware of this – talking about crime in frisbee, this is first criminal I have ever been made aware of: https://uk.news.yahoo.com/good-catch-fugitive-arr

  • Burruss

    When I set out to write this article, I was really driven by my anger with the NFL and the way its greed perverted all its motivations. The NFL (and all big time sports) is not interested in doing what is right, but in making profits. This is reflected in their callous disregard for player health, their willingness to hide head injury data and their lack of concern for an epidemic of violence against women within the league. To me, this stood in stark contrast to the attitude of the ultimate community.

    As I wrote, I began to realize how much we don't know. I think it is safe to say that while there is less violence in the ultimate community than in professional sports, there is more than I/we know about. Getting accurate data is really, really difficult. My own ignorance really bothered me as I worked on this article, but in the end I decided to hope that more good would come from this than bad. I am very appreciative of Jonathan's advice; he challenged me think to about this article from a survivor's perspective. As he mentioned above, we chose to leave the alcohol piece in, but there were other sections that were cut.

    Thanks for reading,
    Lou

  • Fiona

    Very happy to see this article, thanks Lou. I'd just add that men suffer domestic abuse too and it would make sense to say that we as an Ultimate community should abhor any kind of domestic abuse by anyone to any other person and that we support both women AND men that suffer at the hands of it.

  • dusty rhodes

    Obvious question:

    What are USAU, MLU and AUDL policies on players who at various stages of the legal system? Who are caught on video breaking the law? Do they have such policies? Should they? Do any of these bodies have investigative arms? Should they? What is it we're asking for or expecting here?

    Who is going to suspend Player X from playing in a non-sanctioned tournament for a DUI? For assault & battery? For embezzlement? For drug offenses? For underage drinking? For domestic abuse? For… anything? What if it is the Championship Series? What if it is TCT? What if it is Worlds? What about summer league? What about this loopy regular season? What are the standards for each? The same? Different?

    This is a necessary and strange conversation. The issues here are not easy, and I am not attempting to speak for anyone other than myself, nor am I suggesting that I know any of the answers. All of this is very far from my areas of knowledge, let alone expertise.

    But… to address the question asked on the front page: "What if Ray Rice played ultimate?"

    Well…
    We'd probably never see the video. Why would TMZ be hunting down a video of an ultimate player in a casino? Would Skyd or Ultiworld bring similar resources to bear? Would our notably sensitive community even want them to?
    We'd likely never have a discussion on it. How many rapsheets of other ultimate players is anyone in the ultimate community familiar with? How many should we be familiar with?

    Or are we simply mulling on the communal response? That we'd rely on peer pressure and community standards? Would we expect opponents to boycott those games? Would we expect them to be informed enough to make that decision? Would we expect team captains to be empowered and educated enough to have these conversations?

    Which brings me to the other obvious: This is currently happening w/in our community as it does within all other communities. It *is* happening somewhere in our midst. We are simply unaware. That, for example, Lou (as well-connected as he is) knows of "only a handful of incidents" is the tip of the iceberg rather than a definitive defense of the community as a whole.

    So… where were we? Right. I was wondering why you (Lou) would move pizza night because of football– letting not-football control you is a shadow of letting football control you. And the decision to move pizza night to another night with NFL football in primetime confounds me. What a strange world.

    Thanks for broaching the topic, Lou&Skyd.

  • Thanks for writing this, Lou, and for publishing it, Skyd. When I read the original post, I too hesitated over the alcohol line.

    There is a teen dating violence education website and hotline at http://www.loveisrespect.org, 866-331-9474.

    (Potential trigger warning for survivors in this post. This probably isn't necessary because the topic makes it clear, but I describe work with men who batter in this post.)

    When I worked as a volunteer counselor with men who batter, almost every man used a variety of tactics to deny their own responsibility for their controlling actions, abuse, and violence (see Duluth's famous violence and control wheel – http://www.theduluthmodel.org/pdf/PowerandControl….

    Alcohol was a quite common excuse. Anger was another. I'll describe the form the "anger" excuse took first, because it helps in understanding the dynamic with alcohol.

    Often, this denial took the form of, "I got too mad. I couldn't control myself." But if this was literally true, the person who perpetrated's body would be making random uncontrolled movements. A slap, a punch, a kick that connects is actually a very controlled, focused movement. It demands decision making. We'd ask them, "When did you decide to hit her (or him)? Where on her body did you decide to hit her (or him)?" They could almost always answer. A person who batters is deciding to hit, not losing control. The idea that they had "lost control" was then used later on in the apology "hearts and flowers" part of the cycle of abuse (as described by the Duluth model, see http://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic-violence-art… to try to deny responsibility, saying they weren't themselves.

    A related form of denial was the excuse of, "I was so drunk. I didn't know what I was doing." First, the same analysis applies. If you were so drunk that you couldn't control your limbs, you couldn't have focused the violence on your intended target. Second, sometimes people drink so they can deny responsibility later. it provides a handy excuse. They didn't batter because they drank. Whether consciously or not, they drank to provide an excuse for the battering. Alcohol doesn't provide impetus, but it can disinhibit.

    What we would say to men in the program who tried to blame their battering on alcohol was, if you find yourself more likely to decide to batter when drunk, then decide not to drink. If deciding not to drink is a challenge for you, then get support from alcoholism support groups as well. But just getting help for alcoholism is not enough. One still needs to work to stop controlling and abusive behavior whether drunk or sober.

    By the way, if you play/work/coach with teens, I've modified (with the help of teens) both the Duluth power and control wheel and the healthy relationship wheel to apply to teenage abusive friendships and dating relationships (see http://bit.ly/AbuseWheelTeens, and http://bit.ly/HealthyWheelTeens). I encourage you to share these tools with the teens with whom you work/coach/play). I can talk with any of you about ways to use these wheels to teach the concepts.

    A peer education group I co-facilitated also made a teen dating violence PSA. It's at http://bit.ly/TDV_PSA.
    [youtube pMhujHx9Q9U http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMhujHx9Q9U youtube]

    • dusty rhodes

      I literally cannot give this enough thumbs up.

  • I would say that the NFL drive for profits is not only manifested in how they deal with this issues, but also by making a path for production of players that makes the individual decision much harder than it seems. We should look into early playing opportunities on how the first conditioning for players starts to build up, for what it´s going to become a hard choice to opt out.

  • lorton fregnold

    if ray rice played ultimate, he would dominate. if he beat his wife and played ultimate, i doubt anyone would notice. just as nobody seems to notice if ultimate players use peds. there is no testing (though i believe wfdf has a policy). i remember a guy in the 90s who i felt was using peds. he got really buff quickly, though he was a smallish guy. but the nfl appears extremely corrupt in the ray rice case. check this out: http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/11551518/how-ray-rice-scandal-unfolded-baltimore-ravens-roger-goodell-nfl

  • dusty rhodes

    I posted a comment here a day or so ago.. and it seems to be gone… though I am still gettin gupdates on teh conversation through "intense debate"… weird.

    I thought it was a good comment too… covering the notion that USAU, MLU, AUDL, leagues, fun tourneys and all else… don't really have the training or procedures in place to deal with this sort of thing. I was reminded of my comment when reading this piece in The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/09/police-officers-who-hit-their-wives-or-girlfriends/380329/) about domestic abuse in the police force as it states in the open: "More generally, clear evidence of domestic abuse is something that ought to result in legal sanction. Employers aren't a good stand in for prosecutors, juries, and judges."

    In the case of all utlimate organizations aside from MLU/AUDL, they aren't even employers. In the case of MLU/AUDL, they aren't even primary employers. So… how is it we're to be handling this sort of thing? Who is investigating the histories of all ultimate players in a given event? Are Skyd/Ultiworld looking for ultimate players breaking the law on tape? Or in Ultiphotos (who have always done an excellent job of culling their work before presenting… but if you think there are no pics of ultimate players behaving badly in those archives… you're delusional. What if someone offered to pay significant sums of money for pics of so-and-so doing such-and-such?)

    Anyway… domestic violence happens in every subset of society/culture. It is not limited (as Fiona wisely notes) by gender. We ought to be more vigilant, but we've been passing that buck for years.