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Ray Rice is a professional football player for the Baltimore Ravens. Even if you're not an avid NFL fan, you might be familiar with his name this week because it has absolutely lit up headlines. What happened to make Rice the topic of so many discussions? He was caught on videotape dragging his wife out of an elevator in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino after punching her hard enough to knock her unconscious. Although it could, the story doesn't end there. The NFL's response was equally brutal: a two-game suspension. Is the NFL misogynistic? You bet.
NFL suspensions on record
If there was any question about the NFL's stance on women, the aftermath of this case solidified the messaging. The NFL Network described the suspension as, "Dealing with the iron fist of the NFL," while Ian Rapoport reported, "The Ravens stood by their guy." Indeed. Many sports fans and all feminists stood in solidarity on this one calling the NFL out for this clear — and horrid — stance on domestic violence. After all, earlier last week the NFL banned a player for one year for marijuana use and Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the NFL (National Football League), has given much harsher suspensions for player missteps.
Former sports journalist and current commentator on ESPN First Take, Stephen A. Smith took the discussion to a place where it could no longer be swept under the rug. He went on (and on) about the need to focus on the elements of provocation. As in, if you're a woman who doesn't want to be beaten by men, you should make sure to do your part by not giving them a reason to do so.
Social media reacts
The public's response was... loud. Smith's comments have been given a tremendous amount of air time — almost more than Rice's actions — and the prevalence of the anti-women sentiments was showcased by Michelle Beadle, a sports reporter and host on ESPN. Not only did she respond publicly to Smith via Twitter, but when the misogynistic attacks inevitably turned on her, she retweeted each one highlighting the obvious: Misogyny is alive and well. Former baseball writer, Cheryl Rosenberg, speaks to what an impactful move it was for Beadle to call out a co-worker, especially in this field. She says, "Michelle Beadle did an important thing by tweeting her outrage over fellow ESPN co-worker Stephen A. Smith's ridiculous comments. Despite the trolls who commented back to her, she called out a well-known reporter who gets plenty of air time and publicity."
Beadle was one voice here, but she wasn't alone. Women who participate and write about athletics spoke out about the NFL's messaging. Melissa Jacobs, managing editor of The Football Girl, was quoted saying, "A woman doesn't generate revenue for the league so apparently she doesn't count." In the same (fabulous) article, Jacobs said, "The league was in a position to be a leader on this issue and instead showed extreme cowardice."
Even after the tremendous amount of backlash, the NFL responded in a less than stellar way. Yesterday, NFL senior vice president of labor policy Adolpho Birch told ESPN's "Mike and Mike" radio show, "We believe that discipline we issued is appropriate. It is multiple games and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think that's fair to say that doesn't reflect that you condone the behavior. I think we can put that to rest." I disagree.
What Beadle did right
Women active in sports, like Beadle, Jacobs and Rosenberg, used their influential voices to send the right messages; the rest of us could follow suit. Whether or not we're NFL fans, these pervasive messages affect us. Rosenberg says, "The outcome of [these women speaking up] is conversation. Debate. Getting the issue of domestic violence into the public discourse." This is key.
Professional feminist, mom and writer, Veronica Arreola speaks to this. She says, "The age of social media means we've all transformed into influencers... We all have the power to change minds or reinforce stereotypes through social media. If a friend tweets about something you know is patently wrong, you should try to correct the record. It's hard, but there are gentle and friendly ways to do it."
Calling all women (and men)
Speaking up in the name of female equality isn't a new phenomenon. But even the vocal among us have lent our voices most readily to "topics that affect women." These would include the maternity leaves, the glass ceilings and the reproductive rights we tend to own as "our" issues. But we need to look at women like Beadle, Jacobs and Rosenberg as the trail blazers that they are and not just join them in the conversation, but start some of our own. Use your in real-life and online voice to stand up to misogyny in every outlet, even (especially?) in venues that are traditionally dominated by men. Why? Because these are human issues, not female ones, which means that every venue is fair game.
Discuss — and tweet — this topic. Listen to ESPN sports and political commentator and writer Keith Olbermann's response to this debacle. As someone who has made his own missteps in commenting about women, he's joining the dialogue with a change in voice now saying, "The message to the women who the league claims constitute 50 percent of its fan base: The NFL wants your money. It will do nothing else for you." And for a kudos-inciting dialogue, share how the Minnesota Twins responded to learning that Chuck Knoblauch, who was scheduled to be inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame, was charged with misdemeanor assault on his ex-wife: They canceled his ceremony.
In an article in The Star Tribune, Twins President Dave St. Peter was quoted saying, "As a sports franchise, certainly when you start a Hall of Fame or things of that nature that pay tribute to certain players, I do think you also have a responsibility to take off-field activities into account. At the end of the day there's a lot of focus on on-field pieces, but to me the off-field elements are equally important relative to the franchise's brand and ultimately the reality that our players and former players are role models."