The NFL theme song on CBS is an anthem that brings me back to the smell of turkey dinners, my childhood home, laughing and tipsy family members with eyes glued to the television.
It brings an instantaneous feeling of security, support and most significantly, family. Originally from the D.C. area, I was born into a family with an allegiance to the Washington Redskins that may or may not be considered cult-like.
My grandparents held season tickets at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium for years. My mom and dad even snuck into the Redskins Super Bowl victory party in Minnesota in 1991. I also had a Redskins cheerleading ensemble waiting for me in my nursery before I was even born. I have always considered the Washington Redskins (no matter how terrible they are) and the NFL a significant part of my life. The majority of us have heard about the Ray and Janay Rice elevator incident. In February of this year, the first video was released, showing the NFL player dragging his unconscious then-fiancé out of the elevator and into the hotel hallway. There was no footage at this time of what occurred inside of the elevator.
Speculation of what happened before the doors opened and Rice emerged with Janay’s lifeless body began to surface. It wasn’t long before the possibilities dwindled, leaving the likelihood of domestic violence a probable one. Yet, there was a clear desire amongst many NFL fans to overlook the situation, excusing the incident as a misunderstanding. When I discussed it with other fans, they often responded by saying, “There’s no way of knowing what happened before those doors opened.”
The punishment for Rice that ensued following the release of the tape was a two-game suspension. The suspension was issued in July, five months after the first video was released. When considering the penalties for players who violated the marijuana regulations resulted in suspensions for the entire season, the two-game suspension seemed even more ludicrous. The uproars created by the women’s right and anti-domestic violence activists seemed to have lost its fuel by the end of the summer. Until, once again, TMZ released hotel security camera footage, but this time, it showed Rice hitting his soon-to-be wife twice before she went unconscious.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell knew what had happened and didn’t want to admit to. It’s what the NFL fans who had excused Janay’s unconscious body as a misunderstanding never wanted to accept.
It was real-life footage of an instance of domestic violence that the world had foolishly chosen to overlook. As a lifelong NFL fan and a self-identified feminist, I was more demoralized than ever before.
As sickened as I was when the original video was released, seeing the proof of what I knew had happened in that elevator play out before me left me nauseated. How could it ever be possible for me to support an organization that insinuated acceptance of domestic violence?
Throughout the entire controversy, I felt my lifetime commitment to the NFL growing dimmer and dimmer. The organization I had always held in such high regard as a symbol of family and support was at odds with myself as a feminist. According to an article written by Drew Harwell in the Washington Post, it is estimated by the NFL that women make up 45 percent of the NFL fan base. If this is so, how much longer can the NFL go on with their tradition of overlooking domestic violence? Although Ray Rice’s contract with the Baltimore Ravens was ended and he was indefinitely suspended from the NFL, the number of steps it took to reach this point were one too-many. As a female fan, I cannot continue to support the NFL until they get it right. I no longer want to explain to my three little sisters why professional athletes live above the law, or why our family tradition is now one of controversy. I want to be able to identify as a feminist and a fan of the NFL without feeling like a living, breathing paradox.
But until Roger Goodell and the players in the National Football League prove to 45 percent of their fan base that they support their well-being, I refuse to support them. As both a feminist and a fan, I hope they are able to set new standards with their players to rid the league of domestic violence. When I can return to my Sunday football tradition with a healthy conscience, I will once again be proud of the association.
Caitlyn Kelly can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org