The NFL’s Violence Problem and How I Enable It


Ray Rice illustrates the relationship between NFL players and violence.
Ray Rice illustrates the relationship between NFL players and violence.

It seems ridiculous to say that the NFL has a violence problem.  My apologies for the lack of professionalism or eloquence but, duh.  What might be less fathomable is that the fanbase is at fault.  We, the general public who make this the most popular sport in America, may not necessarily advocate the assaults and violent crimes those involved in the NFL commit, but we do somewhat enable them. At the very least, we help perpetuate a culture that breeds the men of the NFL to be monsters and then impose minimal consequences when said monstrous tendencies are unleashed.

Anyone who has watched a minute of football could come to the analytical conclusion that the sport not only allows but glorifies brutality in an unsettling manner.  The players and coaches are exalted, as fans such as myself encourage them to act and think as savages, to hurt each other, for our own amusement.  We support a league that profits and thrives off this when we turn to CBS or FOX every Sunday.  That’s already wrong and backwards enough, but then when the aggression of these players and coaches spill off the field and into the real world, we choose to become apathetic. We allow players and coaches who commit transgressions and the league officials who help bury and cover up these transgressions, to circumvent everything our society deems right because we like watching a game.  

Fourteen years ago, we allowed Ray Lewis, who allegedly murdered a man, to continue to play football without any real ramifications.  He now graces ESPN every Sunday.  In 2009 and 2010, Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault twice.  He was only suspended six games, and no one mentions the incidents anymore because “Big Ben” has won Super Bowls.  In 2012, the NFL discovered that a coach named Gregg Williams was paying players extra for injuring opponents.  Williams is still allowed to coach in the NFL.  The common thread between these men is simple.  They are violent individuals who allegedly committed violent acts, yet because they’re involved in a sport we love, we let that violence pass.  Hopefully, the alleged actions of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson will make that no longer acceptable.

A few weeks ago, TMZ released a video of Ray Rice, a Baltimore Ravens running back, beating his fiancé senseless in an elevator and then subsequently dragging her through a hotel hallway to the public.  The NFL had knowledge of this video since February of this year.  Roger Goodell, the NFL’s commissioner and spin doctor in residence, had a Rice confession by June.  As “proper punishment,” he was suspended two games.  That’s it. He was not brought to the authorities. He was barely given a slap on the wrist.  If Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon can be suspended at least eight games for testing positive for marijuana, but Ray Rice only serves a two-game suspension for punching an innocent victim in the face, then the NFL clearly has to rethink its priorities on infractions.  We as a fan base need to accelerate that rethinking. 

This last week also saw the indictment of Adrian Peterson, arguably one of the faces of the NFL, on child abuse charges.  He allegedly struck his 4-year-old son repeatedly with a switch, leaving incredibly graphic marks and bruises on the child.  While the photos of his son’s injuries are sickening, the response from the NFL and the Minnesota Vikings had been disgusting to say the least. Hiding behind due process, the NFL stalled in punishing Peterson. The Vikings had deactivated Peterson for one game but were planning to start Peterson the next Sunday. If this did happen, the NFL would have effectively made a statement proclaiming that child abuse was okay if one is in fact an incredibly great football player.

After caving to public opinion, NFL officials and executives have started to show some signs of humanity. Ray Rice was cut from the Baltimore Ravens and is serving an indefinite suspension from the NFL. Peterson has been suspended from the Vikings indefinitely and may never play another game for that team.  This is progress, despite the immense amounts of anger from the public in general needed to persuade the NFL to enact harsher penalties.  Even though Rice does plan to appeal his suspension and may play football again, we are moving forward.  Hopefully, these terrible acts lead to the NFL enforcing stronger policies that will lead to less off-field violence, but this will only be achieved if we no longer tolerate or make excuses for this awful behavior.

Football is one of my favorite sports.  I haven’t missed a televised Giants game for as long as I can remember.  But these last few weeks have changed my entire perspective on not only the NFL, but myself.  What if Eli Manning hit his wife or Victor Cruz hurt his child? Would I still be so harsh and angry about this, or would I be more willing to forgive due to my fandom?  I want to say I wouldn’t support either and in fact, I know I wouldn’t.  Domestic and child abuse is wrong, abuse is wrong, and under no circumstances is it right.  I will always look fondly on Big Blue, and the memories two Super Bowls and years of football have given me.  But until Rice and Peterson receive proper justice, until Roger Goodell forgets about revenue for a second and makes decisions with integrity, and until the NFL becomes a corporation in which decency can be considered an actual trait, I will no longer watch or support it.  I will enable no more.