The NFL Cares about Women…For One Month a Year

By Maddie Granato, Age 23

Two things about October that (I think) every American is fully aware of: 1. Halloween and 2. Breast Cancer Awareness month, a whole thirty one days dedicated to funding research and educating the public on one of the deadliest cancers in the country. The movement towards what we’ve labeled as “raising awareness” has gained traction in organized collegiate and professional sports, most notably in the National Football League, where players, coaches, cheerleaders and fans deck themselves in varying shades of pink in honor of fighting the disease.

Since so many of us have been impacted by breast cancer – the second most common cancer among women in the U.S. – in some way, it’s almost too easy to applaud the NFL on its efforts and offer praise for the league’s valiant work in fighting the disease. In taking a second look, however, can we really let the NFL off that easy? All personal disdain for the sport aside (go Celtics), I think we can all answer that question with a simple “absolutely not.”

In recent years, the NFL has taken serious steps towards attracting female fans and rightly so, though you might be as surprised as I was to learn that despite highly publicized domestic violence infractions and a blatant failure of the league to dismiss its abusers, nearly 45% of NFL fans are women. One way the league has stereotypically targeted its female fan base is through October’s Breast Cancer Awareness campaign, where everyone’s favorite teams are outfitted head to toe in pink gear.

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Aside from the fact that little of what the NFL earns from pink merchandise actually goes towards cancer research and its recent discipline of players wishing to honor victims of the disease for more than just a month out of the season, the league’s past and current controversies regarding how NFL players tend to treat women reflects a blatant hypocrisy in its alleged “commitment” to helping improve women’s health.

I know what you might be thinking – the infamous Ray Rice incident happened over a year ago and since then the NFL has supposedly cracked down on its policies regarding domestic violence and assault. That may be true, but consider this: earlier this month, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy completed a lengthy suspension for multiple infractions of allegedly assaulting and threatening to kill his then girlfriend, including one instance where he reportedly shoved her onto a futon covered in semiautomatic rifles. When asked of his feelings about finally retuning to the field, the incredibly oblivious Hardy responded by saying, “I hope I come out guns blazing. I’m full of excitement and full of juice.”

Later in the conversation, another reporter asked Hardy his thoughts on the New England Patriots – the Cowboys’ opponent that week – to which Hardy replied, “I love seeing Tom Brady. You seen his wife? I hope she comes to the game. I hope her sister comes to the game.”

In sum: Greg Hardy, in his first encounter with the press after serving a suspension for assaulting his girlfriend, threatening to kill her and throwing her on a couch full of loaded weapons, couldn’t last ten minutes without mentioning guns or demeaning women.  The NFL made little reaction to Hardy’s latest display of idiocy, but since Hardy, along with his countless misogynist counterparts, are decked out in pink this month to acknowledge breast cancer, somehow we’re supposed to turn a blind eye and enjoy our precious football Sundays.

In case that’s not enough, an incident involving Cleveland Browns’ QB Johnny Manziel allegedly assaulting his girlfriend while driving last week once again brought to light the league’s failure in appropriately dealing with instances of domestic violence. Has Manziel been suspended? Not so much. In questioning Manziel, officials put more value in his heroic recount of grabbing his girlfriend from jumping out of a moving car than in her statements that she had been physically assaulted. In the midst of its yearly campaign to support women’s health, the NFL is yet again doing little to help women even within its immediate reach.

Don’t get me wrong – the reality of breast cancer casts a shadowy burden on countless women all over the globe and increasing awareness of the disease will never stop having meaning. To the NFL, I’d like to thank you for continuing to participate October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month with full force, despite a blatant lack of support for women during the other eleven months of the year. One month of attention to one (very serious) women’s health issue does not negate the league’s complete ignorance of and obvious insensitivity to other important issues that disproportionately affect women, no matter how much pink it throws on the field.

Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov.

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