Normalized Violence: Constructing Culture Through the NFL

In February of this year the Super Bowl set a record as the most viewed television event in US history with 111.5 million viewers. With a population of 313 million, that means over one third of the NFL Statement Quote Domestic ViolenceUnited States watched one television event at the same time.  The official count doesn’t include the millions of people watching in bars or at viewing parties, so the figure is likely much higher.

The Super Bowl is a massive, unifying cultural event that creates cultural experiences well outside of the game of football. Super Bowl commercials are so valuable to companies that just 30 seconds of airtime cost $4 million in 2014. Commercials during the Super Bowl are so popular that people place bets on them, compile countless “best of” lists with commercials, and discuss them well beyond the Super Bowl itself. Arguably even more popular and culturally significant than Super Bowl commercials is the half-time show. Beyoncé’s performance at the 2013 Super Bowl was such a massive event that it broke records as one of the most Tweeted about events in the history of Twitter. The 2004 half-time show with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake was such a significant event that it is still being discussed 10 years later. The NFL arguably presents the most significant, consistent events of cultural production in the United States.

But the NFL as a source of cultural construction extends well beyond the Super Bowl; the sport is often synonymous with patriotism and national identity. Michael Oriard in Slate argues that the NFL became an analog for militarism and nationalism post-World War II –this cross-cultural exchange between the military and the NFL positioned football as the embodiment of U.S. values. Football has also evolved to include patriotic spectacle and demonstration as an integral part of the game. The NFL maintains the credibility as a quintessential national institution that allows it to mold norms of behavior. To be American is to watch football. To be a man is to perform the masculinity constructed by the sport and its participants.

The participants in the NFL are also held as credible sources of normalized behavior. NFL players are deified by the popular media and positioned as the ideal masculine figure. Young boys are taught to aspire to be like their favorite football player, regardless of his off-field conduct. The NFL and its players are the authority on what it means to be a good citizen and a patriotic man in the United States. When these deified athletes participate in violence against women and the NFL as an institution does not take immediate action, this violence becomes normalized. The players commit violence, the organization does not curtail (or punish) the violence, and then violence becomes the norm. Violence is equated with true masculinity. The players are raised in the culture of normalized violence as masculinity and subsequently reproduce and enforce that culture.

This is not to say that the NFL alone is responsible for normalized violence – not by any means. Nor is football as a sport to blame for domestic violence and the broad cultural tolerance for violence against women. The institution is a product of a wider cultural problem, but that doesn’t mean it cannot play a huge part in changing the culture of violence. The NFL needs to channel its power of normative cultural production towards ending violence against women: it needs to use its institutional might to challenge rather than protect those who participate in normalized violence.

Take Action: Demand NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell resign from his position! 

6 responses to “Normalized Violence: Constructing Culture Through the NFL

  1. NFL players, as role models, should embody sportsmanship and decency both on and off the playing field. Their hefty paychecks carry a responsibility with them. Goodell has yet to comprehend the societal harm that public tolerance for abuse produces.

    Janay Rice’s sense of acceptance has been compromised by the “Betrayal Bond” that she unknowingly suffers from. Let’s hope she wakes up before she sustains further injury. Ray Rice showed a callous indifference toward her welfare. He can behave himself while the cameras are rolling, but he can’t and won’t develop empathy. You either have it or you don’t. It’s obvious…. he doesn’t. #CadReads #Rape Facebook: Carnal Abuse by Deceit

    1. Where is YOUR empathy? Your comments regarding Janay Rice are borderline accusatory. You obviously haven’t experienced domestic abuse firsthand. When you’re living with an abuser one of the most important things to understand is the degradation of ones psyche. Janay has demonstrated this effect by publicly acknowledging and “claiming” her responsibility in her own assault. The ramifications of the abusers emotional control of the victim is over simplified by the term “Betrayal Bond”.

  2. First of all, NFL players are NOT role models! Parents, teachers, and other adults who are present daily in a child’s life are the role models. It doesn’t seem like your organization cares about domestic abuse more than headlines. I haven’t read one article where N.O.W. is calling for Judge Mark Fuller’s impeachment. However, I have seen several reports where your organization is putting pressure on the NFL. IMO, this is backwards! Why do we as a society hold athletes to a higher standard than a FEDERAL COURT JUDGE?! Where is the equality?

    1. No one is demanding that professional athletes should at all times be role models. However, the NFL consistently places profits over basic human dignity with their cover ups, non-enforced policies and “boys club” mentality. No human being or major corporation should allow abusers of women and children to hide under the cloak of protection that the NFL has provided. Obviously, you have only chosen a few of the articles written in the past ten days to formulate your rant. The Prosecuting Attorneys office has also been under media scrutiny for their recommendation to the court that Ray Rice be allowed into an intervention program instead of recommending full prosecution.

  3. Violence against women has long been a ‘sport’ practiced by some men. Do you think that these famous athletes are the first to display violent behavior towards women? No, it starts young with high school and college atheletes abusing and raping women. And with administrations and management saying “Tsk, Tsk, now that is too bad. But boys will be boys you know.” And from there it devolves. As an older woman, I am cheering that women are standing up to oppose and finally make a push to make it unacceptable to abuse and hurt women physically, sexually, and emotionally. It’s long overdue. I was beginning to think that in order to eliminate this violence, our only option as women was to cut off our right breast and bring back Greek Amazonian culture. Thank goodness it may not come to that. Although, that could be more fun.

  4. IT IS A SAD COMMENTARY ABOUT TODAY, THAT EVEN WITH THE EVIDENCE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE STARRING US INTHE FACE, IN THE HEADLINES, ON LINE ETC,PEOPLE DENY THE EVIDENCE. JANAY RICE IS THE VICTIM HERE AND SHE IS SETTING AN EXAMPLE FOR HER DAUGHTER. SHE NEEDS OUR SUPPORT, NOT OUR NEGATIVISM . AS FOR THE NFL, A “GOOD OLE BOYS” CLUB NEEDS TO BE ACCOUNTABLE FOR WHAT IT HAS NOT DONE TO CURTAIL THIS. THE PLAYERS ARE MEN, NOT GODS! IT HAS TO DO WITH MONEY, A PRODUCT,SALES, MONEY, SPONSORS, MONEY.nn1

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