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.