In a press conference today Roger Goodell apologized for mishandling recent domestic violence scandals and provided specific ways he and the NFL planned to rectify the situation (e.g., education, training, funding national domestic violence and child abuse prevention organizations).
“I got it wrong in the handling of the Ray Rice matter. I’m sorry for that. Now I will get it right.”
Some of the intended efforts should have a positive effect, both for the NFL and for the larger society. However, if Goodell is serious about changing the culture of the NFL and society, he needs to take a step back from these good ideas and start by identifying the roots of the problem. Without getting the root, this problem will not be solved.
What is the root that has to change? Let me list two that must be addressed:
- We have to stop treating women as objects to be sought after and conquered. An object has no feelings and can be used however I wish. It has no rights, no value…unless I give it value. When we treat women as objects, then we only give them value when we chase them. And when they displease us, what is the big deal if we attack and treat without regard to their personhood? Last summer I heard an African man say that his wife was property because he had paid a dowry for her. Sure, she was special property and he took great care of her. But still, she was property and he could do with her as he wished. We in the West may think we are enlightened, but when we engage in domestic violence (and DV is more than physical!) we agree with this man–that our wives and girlfriends are property, something to be controlled.
- We have to stop treating top athletes as having special privileges, as individuals who do not need to conform to social rules. When you believe the rules do not apply to you, then why not get revenge when someone irritates you? You won’t be held accountable. When you see an attractive woman, why not do everything you can to get her into bed? Faithfulness, self-control, respect for others…those don’t apply. I have been told that women working for the NFL are nearly tortured by efforts to get them into bed; that it is nearly impossible to do their job due to the sexual harassment. Some may suggest that any woman working for the NFL ought to know what she is getting into and so has no right to complain. Others might acknowledge the problem with a sigh but point out that the warfare culture of football, the lure of fame, youthful temptations brought on by sudden riches, and the insatiable competitive spirit are to blame for these misdeeds. Baloney. Youth, money, fame, and testosterone may make it more difficult to do the right thing but the problem started long before these young men got their first football check. They were treated as gods and allowed to keep playing their sport when they acted out. Winning and being associated with winners tempted us to look the other way. How do I know this happens? Because I’ve been in a locker room before. Inappropriate speech was ignored, even laughed at. If you learn that rules don’t apply as a child, why will you behave when you are older?
How about a new institutional organizing principle? Out with self-promotion (and self-protection) and in with…
In the past, organizations, including religious ones, often made decisions about mis-deeds of members by delivering consequences when it hurt their image (or more accurately, hurt their bank accounts). If we want to put a dent in the number of cases of violence (that is all we can do, keep offenders from re-offending under our own watch), we will have to stop being so concerned about image and start putting the care of the most vulnerable as job one.
Want to change the NFL and the world about domestic violence. Let us each start with ourselves and let us adopt this often repeated line of Jesus
“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
That is all there is. Die to self, love others more than yourself. Thank goodness Jesus didn’t merely give us sage advice but led as an example thereby giving us his power to love beyond measure.