We often put more emphasis on winning a game than winning at life. Win a game, and you're considered great. Winning is often a Band-Aid that covers deep wounds or a perfume that masks a bad odor. In sports, we're unfortunately more concerned with image than reality. We control perceptions with wins, money and popularity. That's why grown men stood by and did nothing in State College, PA, a college town where little boys were being sexually abused. No one stepped up to protect the innocence of children because it could destroy the image winning had created. So for decades kids suffered as men who knew the most did the least to stop the sexual violence of children. That's sports. Us against the world. Us against humanity.
I flew to London last Wednesday to watch a game that by Sunday no longer mattered to me. We went overseas to watch Black Eli back on the field as the Giants faced the Rams. But I never made it to Wembley. At that moment I just couldn’t cheer for a team I felt had turned its back on what was right to protect an image. It was difficult because I love my son and I’ve always been in his corner at every game, but for me, this was bigger than a game.
I didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘hey, I think I’ll let the world in on one of the worst moments in my life.' I did so because the NY Giants failed to adequately address the issue of domestic violence nor did they show compassion for Molly Brown. Sharing my story of domestic violence was my way of showing compassion and basic humanity to not just Molly but all the other victims and survivors of this crisis. There was no pretty way to tell the ugly truth about domestic violence.
Telling my story took so much out of me. To relive some of the worst times in your life empties you and you need God’s grace to fill you up again and restore your soul to a place of purpose. Recalling some of the most horrible moments of my life was more difficult than I’d ever imaged. It probably took me almost a week to feel like myself again. I was overwhelmed by the responses from so many readers who shared their own stories via email, Twitter and Facebook. Domestic violence is often shrouded in secrecy and shame for survivors so having women openly share their stories truly inspired me. It made the sacrifice well worth it.
After the article was published, I received many requests for TV and radio appearances. I turned them all down because I first needed to process my emotions. I didn’t want to be on TV in tears nor did I want to make this about Annie Apple vs the Giants, as some bookers and producers had hoped. But I was livid with the Giants, not just because of John Mara’s comments but I was disappointed in the organization because I felt they were leaning heavily on a 21-year-old kid in an effort to control what his mother says. That’s not fair. Did I rob a liquor store in the middle of the night rocking a NY Giants Apple jersey? No. I merely shared my disappointment and sadness in the team’s callous response to domestic violence because I am a survivor and it impacted me in a deep way. When Black Eli got drafted, everyone raved about what a great organization the Giants are. I was proud. I wanted my then 20-year-old son to go to a team that would help him grow not just his talents, but as a man and person. I believed the hype. I even drank the sugar-free blueberry Kool-Aid. By Friday in London, I was spitting it up.
I know the NFL is a business. I get it. But where in business school is showing basic human compassion and accountability not a good thing? I was so disappointed, and there was no way I could go to that game in London. When it comes to what I post on social media, Black Eli and I have always had just one agreement: I will never post the baby picture of him naked holding a mango. That’s our only deal.
Even after my gut-wrenching column, I have yet to hear from anyone from the Giants. Boy, what a great opportunity to show heart, but nope. It’s business as usual. I’m not mad. I’m just enlightened. So many Giants’ fans have been very kind, compassionate and reached out to lend their support, which was refreshing.
Domestic violence is not just an issue involving the NFL or the Giants. The crisis is not about a player or a team. It is about addressing and attacking a passive and too often permissive attitude on domestic violence. It’s not about a blame game but accountability and betterment. We can't end domestic violence, but we can put an end to the attitude of acceptance and passivity of this criminal behavior. We need other men who will stand up to abusers and say this is not okay. We need positive peer pressure; make those around you uncomfortable being abusive to their girlfriends or wives. These abusers are often shielded in the name of brotherhood. Don’t cover for an abuser because he’s your brother, uncle, friend or good teammate. If he’s an abuser, he needs to called out and held accountable. Too many times we compartmentalize abusers’ behavior. We see what they show us while ignoring the truth of their character and abusive tendencies. If he’s beating his wife or girlfriend, no he’s not a great man.
We can't change behavior without first addressing and changing the culture. The problem is a culture that finds it acceptable to devalue women. Behaviors are symptoms. So we try to address, fine and suspend the behavior but we never address the mentality. A wise man once said, "Culture is not built by what you proclaim. It is built by what you practice, promote and permit." The need a culture change.
When I agreed to write a weekly column for SI, I knew I would approach it seriously. This column would be an authentic journal of events, experiences, responses from the perspective of a rookie’s mom. It's honestly something that's never been done before. NFL teams and organizations very much like to control the message and messengers; they like to manage everything their players do, say, post on social media because they don't want their players’ freedom of speech to have a negative impact on the image or perception of the team, its owners or the organization. So a weekly account of the rookie experience is a tedious thing to often navigate. You do so while protecting your son's privacy and process, while you too try to process some of the fascinating yet absurdity of life as an NFL player. Sometimes it gives you the queasy feeling you get when you find out what's really in the sauce of your favorite dish. You don't want to know. You just want to enjoy the meal in its final stage and presentation.
But that's nearly impossible when you have such an intimate relationship with football. I've been watching football since 1990 and been on the sidelines of this game for past 14 years. There's so much you have to balance and close your eyes to in order to enjoy this game. But there are times when you need to open them and speak up. Just because you love your team or player doesn’t mean you close your eyes to blatant injustices and unfairness.
Two years ago when the first college football playoffs were approved, I noticed the games required extensive travel around the holidays within a three-week span. Adults sat down and created a playoff system where coaches and their families, administrators and their families, staff and their families were allowed to travel with free airfare and hotel accommodations but no provisions were made for players’ families. Even before the season began, Tim and I held conversations with our head compliance officer at Ohio State to see what could be done to help players’ families since this schedule would create extreme financial hardship. After all, if coaches, administrators and staff needed their families there, so did 18, 19 and 20-year-old kids. So I started an online social media campaign and with the support of few other parents we got the word out that this was wrong. I got attacked. College football fans and some OSU fans saw me as the enemy speaking out against Ohio State which was far from the truth. I love Ohio State. My family and I have for years. But this wasn't about Ohio State. This was about a system that wasn't being fair to players or their families.
Through the insults and threats, I didn't relent. Five days before the first game of the college football playoff was to begin, the college football playoff committee approved $2,500 travel stipend per two parents. They had the money all along but unless you demand what you deserve no one will hand it to you. No matter how much you love college football, there are major injustices that are impossible to ignore. When people would say "college football players get free education," being a mom of a former top division one student athlete, I know that statement is false. Ketchup at Wendy’s is free but if you’re playing football on a scholarship in college, your education isn’t free. It comes at a high price and it makes others rich, everyone but you. I've seen how hard and tirelessly these kids work. They log more work hours per week than the average employee, without collecting a paycheck. I see how universities, businesses, network television and fans benefit off the hard work of these kids who are unable to profit off their talents and name.
I've been on the phone with parents who can't afford to pay rent while schools are making heavy profits off their sons’ talents with huge TV deals and merchandise. I've seen college players’ dreams aborted by injuries and how those injuries haunt them for years to come. In August of 2015, Ohio State wide receiver Noah Brown broke his leg during a training camp practice. I saw first-hand the pain and agony the family suffered as Noah's mom, a close friend, watched him go through multiple surgeries to repair his leg. I saw how she had to take time off from work to take care of him, help him to the bathroom and help him get around his apartment just to survive. Watching the games on TV, we just see the guy carted off or taken away. We don’t see the pain and suffering injuries place on a kid and his family.
Football is the ultimate distraction. It distracts us from facing and acting on what's important, what's right. If it's our team or a player we like, we make exceptions, concessions and justification because it's us against the world, instead of us against what's wrong in the world. We've made football (and sports as a whole) the main event. It's not. Life is. People are. We should grasp any opportunity we have to do what’s right, regardless of our affiliation.
Telling my story of surviving domestic violence was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. You open yourself up for so much scrutiny and backlash, especially when you’re a woman because folks are always trying to tell us where our place is—which is usually in the kitchen. But a woman does not need society’s permission to express an opinion. If a woman’s place is in the kitchen, I guess I’m used to taking the heat.