Media Hall of Shame: ESPN, the NFL, and Domestic Violence (UPDATED)

Offenders: The NFL, ESPN, Stephen A. SmithESPN First Take logo

The Offense: Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on tape dragging his unconscious fiancé out of a hotel elevator after knocking her out. As a result of an internal investigation, the NFL punished Rice with a two game suspension. In ESPN’s coverage of these events, commentator Stephen A Smith insinuated that women are often to blame when they are abused and that women need to be more careful not to “provoke” the violence perpetrated against them.

NOW’s Analysis: The NFL’s lax punishment of Rice is highly offensive considering that the minimum suspension for substance abuse in the league is double Rice’s suspension and that, in 2007, Michael Vick was suspended indefinitely for dogfighting. The NFL clearly needs to change its policies when smoking weed — which is now legal in some states — is considered twice as bad as violently assaulting a woman.

While the NFL’s response was inadequate, ESPN’s coverage was equally despicable. An estimated one in four women in the U.S. will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime, and those women are never to blame for the acts of violence committed against them.

Domestic abuse and sexual assault are serious issues that affects millions of women, including football fans across the nation. Forty-five percent of NFL fans are women, and this base is growing. ESPN must realize that out of these tens of millions of female fans, many are survivors of domestic abuse. ESPN should not assume that their audience is on board with comments that perpetuate rape culture and side with abusers. Not only is it disrespectful and thoughtless to fail to acknowledge almost half of your demographic, this could be triggering to women who are survivors of domestic abuse or sexual assault.

The response to Ray Rice’s violence against his fiancé is more than just a problem with the NFL, it is indicative of a larger problem with how our society talks about domestic violence and sexual assault. Victim blaming is an integral part of rape culture, and unfortunately, this archaic attitude is still treated as a valid opinion in discourse on this issue in the mainstream media. The ESPN needs to be held accountable for having appropriate and sensitive coverage of an important issue that impacts millions of their biggest fans.

Take Action: Have something to say? Show your displeasure with Stephen A. Smith by tweeting at his show, @ESPN_FirstTake

Updated (8/28/2014): The NFL has announced new punishments for personnel of the league (including players) who commit acts of domestic violence. A first offense brings a six game suspension, a second offense receives an indefinite ban.



One Response to “Media Hall of Shame: ESPN, the NFL, and Domestic Violence (UPDATED)”

  1. Faith

    As a survivor of rape and mental abuse, I feel for anyone, man or woman, who are subjected to domestic abuse of any kind. More legislation and sensitivity needs to be promoted so that these types of actions against another human being can end. Without necessary support, more victims will succomb to blaming themselves which in turns lowers the abused self-esteem and causes generational domestic abuse if something is not done to curtail all forms of domestic abuse. Just because individuals have large amounts of financial backing, on national sports teams and are backed by name brand companies, does not mean the any domestic abuse should be overlooked.

    Together, people can make a difference in the lives of people who suffer from domestic abuse. Let us move forward – out of the black hole of archaic blaming of rape or domestic abuse situations and help create a safety net for all concerned.


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