Recent events in sports news have done little to repair pro football’s reputation for violence, especially violence against women, and its culture of bullies and racism. It isn’t just pro football that shows a disregard for others and the use of force without consequences. Jock culture exhibits its callousness anywhere that sports are played, and the idea of a “thug element” and aggression in football is coming under fire from the media.
Racism on the gridiron
On November 8, 2013, Clyde Bellecourt, co-founder and director of the American Indian Movement (AIM) appeared on Democracy Now to explain objections to the use of Native American references in team names. In an interview titled, “Change the mascot: Pressure grows for NFL team to drop Redskins name and logo as thousands protest,” Bellecourt and others described a history of racism within the NFL, still visible in team names like the Washington Redskins.
According to Bellecourt, the R-word is no different from the N-word as far as Native Americans are concerned. To quote Bellacourt, “Little Red Sambo has to go.” So far, team owner, Daniel Snyder, has refused to change the name.
Why has the team been allowed to get away with using such a controversial name for so long without protest? Mostly because its lackluster record kept it out of the spotlight. Now that the team has become relevant, it is attracting more attention, and more members of the media – including Bob Costas, Peter King of Sports Illustrated, and USA Today’s Christine Brennan – are agreeing that the name is offensive.
In other football news, Richie Incognito was suspended by the Miami Dolphins, his third NFL team in five years, after allegations of bullying by fellow teammate Jonathan Martin. In a November 8, 2013 article for The New York Times titled, “Prized for his aggression, Incognito struggled to stay in bounds,” Bill Pennington described Incognito’s violent history.
According to Incognito’s father, Jim Ewan, Richie never showed signs of uncontrolled aggression until his sophomore year at Nebraska. His violent tendencies on the field led to a stay at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, an institution that treats psychiatric disorders and behavioral problems. After his return he was reinstated but later dismissed after he was found guilty of a misdemeanor assault charge. According to Pennington, “He was still on the roster until he fought a teammate in the locker room that summer. The new Nebraska coach, Bill Callahan, dismissed him.”
From there Incognito joined the Oregon team on the condition that he take part in anger management therapy. He didn’t last two weeks. Despite 38 penalties and a record-setting seven personal fouls, Incognito lasted five years with the Rams. In 2009 he was named the league’s dirtiest player in a poll of NFL players.
Reactions to racism
What is troubling to many is the reaction to Incognito’s suspension and Martin’s allegations. In a response that will resonate with any rape victim, sympathies are leaning to the aggressor while the alleged victim, Martin, is being portrayed as a weakling who can’t take a joke.
Sports writer Ron Chimelis voiced his disdain for the NFL and its culture of violence in a November 9, 2013 post for Mass Live, “NFL’s ‘thug element’ is ruining it as a sport.” Chimelis asserted, “The NFL runs the only culture in the United States where the N-word can be used and not only is it tolerated and excused, it is practically defended. We saw it with Philadelphia’s Riley Cooper, and now with Incognito.”
Violence against women
A Google search using keywords, “football” and “rape” will return about 146,000,000 hits. This is not surprising in a culture where players are encouraged to take what they want and attack perceived weakness without any consequences.
In an October 14, 2013 post for Think Progress, “Victim’s House Burned Down After She Accuses Football Star of Rape,” Adam Peck related a story that is all too familiar. It is the story of how an entire town rallied to the defense of a favorite and well-connected football player accused of raping a 13-year-old girl and then leaving her unconscious on her parent’s front porch in freezing temperatures.
Unfortunately, the media, in reporting this and similar stories, is culpable in supporting a culture of violence. “As rape cases have emerged in the national spotlight, news outlets from ABC News to Yahoo have been quick to portray the accused rapists as the real victims, denied of promising futures, or an opportunity to play in a few high school football games,” Peck observed.
How do you feel about the level of violence in team sports? Voice your opinion in the comments below.