Print Edition: September 24, 2014
The NFL is the most popular sports league in North America. Its empire is so large that the league has recently expanded — from a strict Sunday and Monday weekly game schedule to a third day of action on Thursday — in hopes of feeding the ever-growing appetite of NFL fans. Recently though, the nacho-eating, beer-drinking, fantasy-football-playing NFL fan has been thrown head-first into heated conversations about domestic violence.
With news of notable players like Ray MacDonald charged with domestic violence, Adrian Peterson charged with child abuse, and the release of a video of Ray Rice punching his wife Janay unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator, sports television and radio stations everywhere have stopped discussing games and started breaking down court cases. Though it’s wrong to single these players out, these are the high profile cases harbouring media attention.
Before the release of the Rice video, he had only been suspended for two regular season games, but after its public release Rice was suspended indefinitely and released by his team, the Baltimore Ravens. Furthermore, Peterson was not suspended, and was even scheduled to play for the Vikings in the third week of the NFL season, until pictures of his son after the abuse were released to the media. He has since been deactivated from the roster. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has publicly apologized for the organization’s lack of judgment and sensitivity. This all begs the question: Why does it take visual evidence of these assaults for us to recognize there is a problem?
According to Benjamin Morris from FiveThirtyEight, there have been over 500 domestic violence charges against NFL players since 2000. Furthermore, there are currently 12 players playing in the NFL who have been charged and convicted in cases of domestic violence, yet were never suspended.
Perhaps this reveals how sports in our society have been placed on a pedestal. Fantasy sports are wildly popular and TV ratings are higher than ever, and for many fans, sports have reached the threshold of religion. The players on the field are gods who put their bodies on the line for your holy cause on a weekly basis. But the high admiration for the person on the field can cloud your judgment in other areas. The athlete, whether it is Rice, MacDonald, or Peterson, has fought on your side and is an important part of what you believe in. This close connection between fan and player, however, is a false one. It’s as though the players are a close friend or someone you know on a personal level.
Regardless of how disgusting and stomach-churning these cases are, the popularity of the league is not going to be curbed. Football is engraved in the fabric of America much like hockey is in Canada, and the NFL is the peak of that obsession. Undoubtedly, some fans will be turned off, but the majority would rather separate those on the field from the personal drama outside the stadium turnstiles — a display of the glaring immensity of power held within the fandom of sport in our society today.