A recent case of domestic abuse committed by Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice has brought the NFL under intense public scrutiny. Rice punched his fiancée Janay Palmer in the face and subsequently rendered her unconscious in an elevator in Revel Casino on Feb. 15, 2014. A video of the attack emerged on Sept. 8, after Rice had been indicted on third-degree aggravated assault, the charges of which were dropped after Rice agreed to undergo court-supervised counselling. The total disciplinary action taken against him at that time was a two-game suspension. Palmer married Rice the day after his indictment on March 28.
Ever since the video of Rice’s assault on Palmer in the elevator emerged, intense public discussion has been focused on the league, especially on their management of the extensive allegations of domestic assaults by players on various teams. As an illustration of how grievous the league considered Rice’s assault on his fiancée, consider the fact that his initial punishment of suspension for two games. When players violate the NFL’s substance abuse policy, they’re suspended for four.
This policy suggests that they consider the use of anabolic steroids to be worth twice the suspension time for causing grievous bodily harm to another person without provocation. What makes the situation worse is that the attack on Palmer occurred in public. This can lead us to the assumption that her treatment in private has been similar or worse. How often has there been domestic abuse of players’ partners that has been known but ignored due to lack of public pressure?
A recent campaign under the tag #covergirlcott calling for the boycotting of NFL sponsor CoverGirl, until the cosmetic company pulls their funding from the league. In response, CoverGirl issued a press release, reiterating their support for women and their belief in female empowerment. This brings up the question of what it means to be a female fan of American football. In their Get Your Game Face On campaign, CoverGirl attempted to reach a female demographic, which is generally ignored in the realm of professional sport. However, one has to ask how much a makeup campaign can really do to contribute to female empowerment in the hyper-masculinised world of the NHL.
CoverGirl should be leading their campaign through example, terminating their support of the NFL until a serious inquiry has been made in to the Rice case. The league has made steps in addressing the issue through the funding of a national domestic-abuse hotline. However, it is going to take much more than that to even begin to deal with domestic abuse. There must be a policy of absolute intolerance of any form of abuse – domestic or otherwise. The NFL needs to address the culture that fosters domestic abuse in the first place. Rather than makeup campaigns asking women to put on a pretty face for football games, the NFL and their sponsors need to work on gender-equality. We need to begin feminizing the world of professional sport- not through short skirts and eyeliner, but rather through a celebration of healthy and equal relationships and contribute to the end of the violent and hyper-masculinised environment that is the sport’s current culture.