NFL and Violence

This past weekend two stories surrounding the National Football League (NFL) hit the news. The first story: according to a study lead by Segal Group, about one in four NFL players are likely to end up suffering dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or other cognitive impairments during their lifetime.  The report highlights the violence and the dangers associated with professional football. The second story: Adrian Paterson, the league’s most famous running back, had been arrested for allegedly beating his 4-year-old son with a tree branch.

Unfortunately these two stories, both linking violence and football are not the exception, but the norm. Football culture, better known as jock culture is a culture of male privilege and patriarchy. In this world, football is analogous to war and whoever is not with us is against us. There is no room for collaboration and mutuality. Examples of this culture, range from the 2013 bullying incident between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin (where Richie was bullying Jonathan for having perceived him as “soft”), to the brutal domestic violence case of Ray Rice, to the most recent child abuse charges with Paterson (unfortunately these are all but a few on a long list of problems). Clearly, the link between jock culture and violence against women needs to be acknowledged head-on. The sanctioned and expected violence reflective in these examples are problematic.

NFL and Domestic Violence – 2014

 NFL and Bullying – 2013

Research links football and brain damage. Yet, none of the rules regarding the games have been changed, even when the NFL’s own study concluded that football players are 19 times more likely than non-players to develop brain trauma related illnesses. This type of sanctioned violence is disturbing. Further, NFL’s reaction to Ray Rice’s story says something profound about football culture, and worse, about our society’s view of women, men, masculinity and violence. Specifically, the fact that deeper rage against Rice (and Goodell and the NFL) only began after the video footage was released, says how little we value women. It also reveals an uncomfortable connection between football, power and male privilege. Even in Mr. Paterson’s case, he, through a lawyer, quickly sought to play down his behavior, saying he had engaged only in stern parenting.

The fact that America’s number one sport is in the hands of a league that does not care that its players, who are continually receiving blows violent enough to knock them unconscious, is problematic. The fact that we don’t care about these players is disturbing.  We tell ourselves that they are protected by helmets and uniforms, but when studies show they are not, how do we respond? Do we acknowledge that we are witnessing violence? Do we see how barbaric the sport has become and how the NFL is not looking out to protect its players?  What is the human cost? How does this affect the players view on violence?  How does this affect their families, who get physically abused, beaten and denigrated? What price, do we, in the audience, pay psychologically, as we watch on screen images of collision and violence? The question remains: what does it say about us, when we continue to watch and support the NFL — a league that is negligent towards its players and promotes a culture of violence, bullying and misogyny?

This is an opportunity for us to have a national conversation about the NFL, jock culture, violence and masculinity. As you watch and read through the articles and clips we’ve complied for you, we hope you keep questioning, and keep thinking, while envisioning a world with less violence, more compassion and healthy sports.


Goodell’s Thick Skull – Daily News

How Jock Culture Supports Rape Culture, From Maryville to Steubenville – The Nation

Misogyny and Homphobia in the NFL: Is America’s Crisis of Masculinity Playing Out in Its Favorite Sport? – Huffington Post

Australian PSA Reminds Us That The Path To Domestic Violence Starts Far Before The First Punch – Huffington Post

Child (Physical Abuse) PSA


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