- As another NFL domestic violence controversy swirls, there's no better time than now to shine a light on women in all facets of football.
Though it may appear that way, “Women’s Week” at SI is not a mass antidote to the troubling Josh Brown situation. This special week has been in the works for some time, and I will share details below.
But first, the Brown disaster. Summary of facts: The Giants kicker was arrested in May 2015 on a domestic violence charge, and his then wife told police of over 20 incidents of violence, extending from pushing her into a mirror to pinning her face to the floor. (They have since divorced.) Sounds like conduct befitting the NFL’s baseline six-game suspension, per the NFL’s personal conduct policy that was revamped in December 2014 in response to the league’s famous bungling of the Ray Rice suspension. But because Brown’s ex did not cooperate and the league could not obtain police records, an arbitrary number (one) was picked out of the NFL’s rabbit hat of DV-related suspension options.
The league made a feeble attempt to justify the one-game suspension.
“What this case shows is that domestic violence is an incredibly complex and complicated issue,” the NFL’s vice president of social responsibility Anna Isaacson told ESPN’s Jane McManus. “It would be wonderful if it was easy to explain. We don’t profess to know everything, but we profess to try to get it right. I hope that what we’ve done in the last two years shows that we’re committed to this issue and fans can trust that.”
Sigh. Somehow lost in the league’s self-trumpeting of their newfound emphasis on domestic, they forgot to read the chapter on the psychology of domestic violence victims. How they shy away en masse from discussing their incidents. How they often cower in fear because they don’t want a repeat. How they may cling to silence so as to not impact their children or finances or any number of reasons that are impossible to relate to unless you’ve been a victim.
Did the NFL consider these issues in reducing Brown’s suspension from six games to one? Did they engage in any further investigation by speaking to friends and coaches, or by examining Brown’s 2001 assault charge? When making a decision based on so-called “mitigating factors,” one would hope this is the case, but I am extremely skeptical. Time and time again, we have seen the NFL attempt to portray itself as a court of law and render judgments based on extremely murky acts when it is simply not equipped to do so.
There needs to be some kind of standard that the league can apply consistently, just as it does for PEDs. Here’s a proposal: a four-game minimum suspension for any arrest stemming from domestic violence. Aggravating circumstances—such as conviction in a court of law—can extend the length of suspension, and the only way a player can get a sentence reduced is by presenting exculpatory evidence. There will be errors from time to time, just like players who unknowingly ingest a banned substance, but if a player has put himself in a position to get arrested, he deserves the baseline suspension. Domestic violence is too serious an issue for arbitrary judgments, and the league should lean toward overenforcement in this extremely sensitive area, not underenforcement.
The Brown incident only underscores one of the various tentacles of conundrum for all fans of the NFL, and in particular females, many of which will be discussed this week. We will be sharing the thoughts of a cascade of female fans later in the week. Our coverage will extend well beyond the realm of social issues. We will also check in with Bills coach Kathryn Smith, share the layered perspective of a former NFL wife who concurrently pursued a Ph.D., examine gender inequality in broadcasting and much more.
“Women’s Week” is not a theme you would typically see donning the NFL pages of SI.com, which is precisely why we are doing it now. The league has never been at more of a crossroads when it comes to its female fan base. Issues like the league’s checkered history with both domestic violence and head injuries have come to the forefront. The realization that football is a violent, enabling sport that can easily permeate its players’ predisposed psyches has only become starker. Look no further than the Cowboys’ sparkling, new facility that features a wall of motivation with a pair of boxing gloves under a sign that reads “The Knockout”.
The art of compartmentalization becomes increasingly difficult with every new incident, from the Cowboys’ signing of Greg Hardy to Ezekiel Elliott coming under question before his first training camp even begins to the case of Brown. How are you supposed to relax and cheer knowing that even the kicker might go home and take out some pent-up frustration on someone other than his opponent?
But then, NFL action is so grandiose and exhilarating and ever-changing. It sucks you in. With every sliver of news—from CTE being posthumously found in another former player’s brain to the Rams eschewing concussion protocol while a clearly concussed Case Keenum shakily tries to stand—I feel hollow, as if I’m contributing to the problem by even watching the sport, let alone making a living covering it. Then it’s Sunday, and there are magical catches and intriguing scheme shifts, and suddenly I’m no longer thinking deeply about the ideal age for a kid to start playing tackle football.
Women make up somewhere between 45 and 48% of the NFL fan base, according on a variety of sources. To its credit, the league has invested heavily in growing that base through apparel, family-friendly sections at stadiums, Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Football 101 events. Some initiatives have been more successful than others, but overall the end result has been an undeniable swell of passionate, knowledge female fans.
But the NFL remains behind the times, inherently slanted to men. Scantily-clad cheerleaders grace the sidelines of 26 of the 32 NFL teams. (The Bills, Bears, Browns, Giants, Packers and Steelers do not have cheerleaders.) Men line broadcasting and coaches’ booths. Television advertising is heavily skewed toward men. Even with Smith, Jen Welter and Sarah Thomas breaking glass, the NFL often feels like a sea of men, and I say that as someone with a pretty cool job deep within that sea.
This week, we shine a light on women in all facets of the game. Our hope is that female fans who feel alienated in other corners of the league take comfort in the various viewpoints we are presenting. And that male fans (many of whom are just as enraged about the Brown situation) learn a little something about how some women consume the NFL, coach in the NFL and strive to succeed in the NFL. Spotlighting almost half of the NFL’s fan base should be enlightening to all.
In other news…
• I was in Denver this weekend for a promotional event that included an up-close look at the Broncos as they faced the 49ers. Just let Paxton Lynch start. Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian are not Band-Aid-type quarterbacks. Each displayed poor decision making Saturday—Siemian with a pick-six and Sanchez with a pair of fumbles. Even Sanchez admitted to “squandering” his opportunity after the game. Lynch conversely looked raw but relatively comfortable in the pocket. In an ideal world, he would redshirt, but what does he have to gain sitting behind Sanchez and Siemian? These guys aren’t exactly elder statesmen like Matt Hasselbeck, who actually has wisdom to impart on a young QB. Let the kid get some experience, go conservative offensively, and hope that defense stays healthy.
• The NFL made more waves when it was revealed that Mike Tirico will not be doing play-by-play for NBC’s Thursday Night Football, as was widely assumed, but that the network was mandated to use Sunday Night Football announcers Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. The NFL released a statement revealing that NBC’s pitch included their lead broadcasters taking on TNF duties, which the league found appealing.
This news led to a bigger question about how Machiavellian the league is with its rights holders. I asked the NFL about the process of choosing new lead announcers should something happen to Michaels and/or Collinsworth, including retirement. An NFL spokesman responded, saying that NBC has full control over its talent. The NFL would not overrule talent, nor would they mandate anyone in particular. The league’s focus is on ensuring the lead team—whoever they may be—are doing both SNF and TNF. Sounds fair to me. Bottom line: While at NBC, Tirico won’t be calling NFL games while Al Michaels still is.
• I feel terrible for Roberto Aguayo and Bucs fans. Aguayo is already a laughingstock after a missed extra point and pair of field goals this preseason. It’s not his fault the Bucs made an idiotic move by trading up to draft him in the second round. No position requires as much mental toughness as kicker, and it may take some time (and a string of makes) just for Aguayo to get back to even.
• Is there any QB battle less fascinating than the one for the Jets’ backup spot?
• My favorite fantasy team name this season is Draft Your Conscience. I can’t get away from it. But I’m always looking for an upgrade. So please tweet any creative, timely name ideas to me at @thefootballgirl.
• The regular season is a different animal, but how fun is RG3’s rebirth in Cleveland? When Griffin came onto the NFL scene in 2012, it was his pinpoint accuracy that especially wowed the masses. It is back in spades through two preseason games. It’s very early, but Griffin’s resurrection is shaping up to be one of the NFL’s most intriguing storylines.
• Given our theme this week, here’s a fun stat: There are four people on the NFL editorial staff at SI.com. Three are women.