The NFL needs to get its priorities in order. With the news that former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is gay, “experts” including an assistant coach said Sam’s sexuality would be a “distraction.”
One assistant coach told Sports Illustrated, “There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that. There’s nothing more sensitive than the heartbeat of the locker room. If you knowingly bring someone in there with that sexual orientation, how are the other guys going to deal with it? It’s going to be a big distraction. That’s the reality. It shouldn’t be, but it will be.”
The NFL has it exactly backwards. In 2014, a player’s sexuality is not a distraction from how they perform on the field. America has progressed in terms of the acceptance of gay people in all areas of human life. Where America has not made progress is in the area of combating gender-based violence and the NFL is a highly visible microcosm of this epidemic.
This week more than Michael Sam’s announcement was in the news. Former NFL player and six-time pro-bowler Darren Sharper pleaded not guilty to charges of drugging and raping 10 women. If convicted, Sharper could spend 30 years behind bars. The firsthand accounts of the alleged victims waking up, disoriented and confused, in the middle of their sexual assaults , is a thing nightmares are made of.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was also arrested this week for allegedly punching his girlfriend in the head, knocking her unconscious in an Atlantic City casino. Before the Internet could do the usual, “we weren’t there, so we can’t really know what happened?” dance that is a common refrain in high-profile cases of domestic violence, TMZ released video of Rice dragging his visibly unconscious girlfriend out of an casino elevator.
With compelling video evidence of the abuse allegations the NFL and society at large might finally be forced to confront the epidemic levels of violence against women that is consistently pushed under the rug. Gender-based violence is hard to ignore when there is video of a man dragging an unconscious woman down a hallway.
Late Thursday night, a source told Sports Illustrated’s Robert Kelmko that the Atlantic City police have yet to release the surveillance video of the Rice blow to his fiance’s head that knocked her unconscious. According to the police, both Rice and his girlfriend struck each other, but it was allegedly Rice’s blow to his girlfriend’s head in the elevator that rendered her limp and motionless in the already-released video.
The NFL has a long and sordid history of sexual assault, domestic violence, and murder but it would be wrong to say that they are worse than the rest of society. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 4 women will suffer at the hands of a domestic abuser.
The NFL’s cases of rape, abuse, and murder are not necessarily more frequent, but the public hears about the allegations from the mainstream media. It’s the cases in the neighborhoods across the country that many don’t hear and that don’t always make headlines. Domestic violence is an issue that everyone needs to confront. The NFL needs to do much more to support the players in their intimate relationships off the field and society needs to get to a point where video proof isn’t needed to believe a victim who comes forward to report abuse.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @ZerlinaMaxwell.