January 22, 2015

So you may have heard there was an issue with some footballs...  Turns out 11 of the 12 New England Patriots gameballs were underinflated and science (!) indicates this gave the Pats a slight but real advantage catching the ball (though the QB from that collegiate team up north would lose some distance when passing).

This story is big.  Sports commentators cannot get enough, every Jets’ fan I know has contacted me, and social media is fixated.  Local news lead with the story. Truth be told I think the Pats are as innocent as Pete Rose, Lance, or the Blade-Runner.  Said differently, Roger Goodell is looking at another black eye for the NFL.  That’s right:  another. 

I wish I could say I cared about deflate-gate though.  But I don’t.  You see the NFL and I already parted ways this summer.  I am a serious sports and football fan.  I grew up with season tickets to Ohio State football (undisputed national champions!!), heard my Massachusetts born-and-raised father drop the f-bomb for the first time in 1986 as our dog Fenway looked on, and swimming helped me earn college scholarship offers. I love sports and I really love football.  But I just can’t watch the NFL anymore and it’s been tough.  I seriously miss watching with friends and family.  But I’m also a Political Scientist whose research focuses on issues of equality and public policy in the United States.  And the divergence between these concerns and the norms of the NFL just became too untenable. 

So here are the things I care more about than deflate-gate:

  •  Domestic Abuse.  The Ray and Janay Rice abuse stills, subsequent video, and abhorrent NFL handling of the attack received most of the attention early this season but let’s not forget Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs who killed his girlfriend and then himself.  Or Rae Carruth who took a hit out on his pregnant girlfriend killing her.  Or OJ.  These examples suggest the League has a domestic violence problem and the data supports this claim.  According to conservative estimates by Ben Curtis at fivethirtyeight.com, the domestic abuse arrest rate for NLF players is over “four times worse than the league’s arrest rate for all offenses (13 percent), and domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to our estimated 21 percent nationally. Moreover, relative to the income level (top 1 percent) and poverty rate (0 percent) of NFL players, the domestic violence arrest rate is downright extraordinary."  Add to this that domestic violence is notoriously under reported--especially when the male partner in a heterosexual relationship wields disproportionate wealth and status.
  • Females Sidelined.   Turn on the Sunday morning NFL shows.  Any of them.  No women are at the table.  Female reporters remain relegated to the role of sideline reporter and are regularly demoted as they age.  While women’s sports regularly include prominent male analysts and coaches, the NFL and networks shows covering the NFL can boast no women at the gameday desk, zero female coaches, and no female refs.
  • Patriarchy.  Remember Boomer Esiason’s comments on New York Mets second baseman, Dan Murphy, who missed opening day because of the birth of his son?  “I wouldn’t do that. Quite frankly, I would have said ‘C-section before the season starts. I need to be at Opening Day. I’m sorry, this is what makes our money, this is how we’re going to live our life, this is going to give my child every opportunity to be a success in life.'”  Dreamy, right?  Though he later apologized, the statement is telling as an extreme example of the larger norm– mom’s reproduction or occupational goals better comply with dad’s job in the NFL. 
  • Concussions. Former players are literally dying from concussion related ailments.  And the NFL covered it up.  This is a public health crisis yet the NFL has done relatively little and most certainly named the issue far too late.  Pee-wee, high school, and college leagues remain with concussion risks far from combated as the highly unrealistic, if lucrative, prize of playing in the NFL gets sold.
  • Homophobia.  Remember Michael Sam?  SEC defensive player of the year in 2013 and first prospect to announce he was gay before draft day?  He is not currently playing in the NFL.  His draft stock fell precipitously after his announcement and, while there was debate about whether or not this was due to his sexual orientation, I’m confident America’s most respected coach, Tony Dungy, only slipped by publicly airing that he would not draft Sam because he was gay.  Coach spoke the locker room thoughts of many in the NFL hierarchy and numerous players.  Sam did not make the Rams team after being selected in the 7th round and had a short stint on the Dallas practice squad.  Many will disagree, but I’d bet my house he would be playing somewhere – likely special teams – had he stayed closeted.  More importantly, the simple fact that he is the only prospect to announce he was gay and no active player has ever come out suggests the NFL has a homophobia problem.  The hyper masculinity culture equates gay with weak and gay players know success depends on staying quiet.

And I’m just getting started.  I have not even covered the woeful record of minority hiring in front offices, among coaches, and in ownership.  Stadium ransoms.  The Browns leaving for Baltimore (okay that was personal).  Serial cheating – looking at you Brett Favre  is so frequent that “jumpoff” is a term anyone under 40 or remotely close to the game understands.  Sissy, and far, far cruder names for players that do not make the play are the norm (see all memes for poor play that feminize the player in some fashion here too).  Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Hernandez, and Ray Lewis (now a broadcaster!)  What about the way the NFL relies on (uses) college teams as their farm system – a system that does not pay talented athletes, who are disproportionately of color, remotely commiserate to the value they bring the school?

I’m no fool.  I know the college game has considerable problems but it is my methadone (OSU won it all with a third-strong QB and the SEC was trounced this year!).  But deflate-gate?  It is far more deflating that we tolerate a league that is so regularly defined by misogyny, homophobia, concussions, and elements of racism.  Socialization and love of the game make it hard to call out.  But politics do not stop at sport. They intertwine.

sports and politics, NFL, deflate-gate, patriots, sexism, homophobia

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