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 who write my essay 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 фе, 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.



5 responses to “Media Hall of Shame: ESPN, the NFL, and Domestic Violence (UPDATED)

  1. 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.

  2. GUESTWORDS: Rethink Domestic Violence
    By Marilyn Fitterman
    | September 26, 2012 – 11:53am
    Our society has created an environment where beating women and children and violating their civil rights are acceptable. In fact, we have actually created an industry — the violence against women movement. This movement thrives on building “safe houses” and places of “retreat” to protect victims, as opposed to enforcing on-the-books laws against the men who abuse.
    The 1970s ushered in the epitome of misogyny with the development of facilities to protect women from violent men. As well as brutalizing and maiming women, violent men in the United States kill three women each day. That’s more than we were losing in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Although we don’t acknowledge it, this is war.
    A few years ago, the governor of Illinois signed legislation increasing protections for domestic violence victims. The bill allows courts to order the abuser to wear a GPS tracking device as a condition of bail. The legislation was sparked by the murder of a woman whose ex-boyfriend shot her, even after on two separate occasions he had been arrested and prosecuted for violating a restraining order. Similar legislation has since passed in many states.
    In 2009, the Suffolk County Legislature voted to establish an online registry of convicted abusers. But the measure was vetoed by the county executive at the time, Steve Levy, who claimed the bill was unnecessary. The Retreat, a safe house for women and children in East Hampton, and the Suffolk County Coalition Against Domestic Violence also denounced the bill as not necessary. Often legislation to protect women and children from violent men is met with “yes, but” objections and resistance, especially from those feminists, sometimes called protectionists, who choose to hide women away as opposed to changing the system that imprisons them.
    A too-large faction of the domestic violence industry is more involved with raising money, gathering volunteers, and building safe houses than with solving problems or empowering women to take care of themselves. By hiding women and children away, we are certainly not fixing the problem, as can be seen by the latest statistics showing that more and more retreats are being built as more and more women and children are being abused.
    Instead of being overly concerned, as we currently are, with the rights of men who abuse, we should begin to look at this problem by thinking outside the box, with a fresh perspective, with an egalitarian attitude, and with better ideas for aiding the women and children.
    We have semi-effective measures, using GPS and registering convicted abusers online in order to track them. These practices are not a panacea, however, as proven by the previously mentioned escalating numbers.
    Why not consider the obvious? Why should women and children be carted away, bleeding and bruised, often in the middle of the night, while violent men stay in the family home, resting comfortably, perhaps beer in hand, watching television, and showing absolutely no remorse? By anyone’s standards this is not equality of justice. If a man were to beat up another man he would be arrested. But beating a woman is tolerated. We hide the women away so abusers can’t find them. It’s absolutely outrageous.
    Why not use these “safe houses” to board the men? They could be put on work release and equipped with GPS devices, allowing them to go to work each day while being monitored. They would then be responsible for supporting their families, and at the same time be charged room and board. We could also be sure they were taking care of themselves in such ways as doing their own laundry and preparing their own meals.
    If judges and offenders had such a choice, offenders could avoid jail and still be held responsible for their violence. Furthermore, convicted batterers could keep their jobs, pay child support, and avoid incarceration without endangering their victims. Additionally, judges would be more inclined to impose meaningful sanctions. It would also save hundreds of thousands of dollars on prisons.
    The United States is spending close to $6 billion every year on domestic violence. This covers housing, counseling, medical expenses, etc. This money would be much better used if we implemented stronger sanctions against the men who batter. Meanwhile, our criminal justice system’s failing policies exacerbate criminal behavior and contribute to its prevalence.
    We need to put our heads together for a new domestic violence approach, a policy grounded in equality, to ensure that battered women are treated the same as victims of stranger violence.

    Marilyn Fitterman is a former president of the National Organization for Women in New York State and current president of the organization’s East End chapter. She lives in Springs.

  3. Roesthlisberger, Ray McDonald, Greg Hardy……NFL players still playing. Where are you for those women? Why are you not protesting against them? Why are their coaches jobs on the line or any petitions circulating?

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