By Barry Federovitch
For The Chris Murray Report
Is there a North American pro sports league more disrespectful to women than the NFL?
At a time of year when the continent’s most popular league would love for you to be focused on fantasy stats and jersey sales and what game you will be attending next, rarely has there ever been a worse series of events in terms of public relations, in particular towards women.
Commissioner Roger Goodell either saw or should have seen the contents of the Ray Rice elevator assault.
Adrian Peterson, another player without any previous track record of violence, turned himself into police after video evidence suggested he beat one of his seven children with a switch. Once one of the game’s most admired figures, he is now a pariah.
Before all this came down was the demotion of 19-year sideline reporter Pam Oliver, one of the most respected journalists in the business, for the younger Erin Andrews. And let’s not forget the offseason lawsuit by Raiders cheerleaders that resulted in a $1.25 million settlement in back pay.
All very different situations and yet all, on some level, degrading to at least one demographic of women.
The ugly flip side is what these transgressions say about large portions of men in our sporting society. As Hannah Storm, a mother of three girls, suggested last week, are so many willing to compartmentalize their emotions and look the other way when spouse abuse and child abuse is concerned?
Ageism is another issue on another level.
We see sideline reporters about five minutes a game and listen to them for 10. As men are we so pathetic that we have to have the prettier face (if that’s what you consider Andrews) for those few minutes while discarding someone who has been a credible news source for almost two decades?
This is no slight on Andrews, who had done a lot to prove her worth as a poised reporter in recent seasons. But what does it say about us when a 50-something year old black woman (who looks like she’s 35), who is not only a pioneer, but one of the best in her field, is so easily dismissed? And is the offense more sexist or racist?
The cumulative evidence right up to Goodell’s press conference Friday which answered nothing, is disturbing.
In a league so eager to punish players for dunking the ball over the goal post or for not having their jersey tucked in, there’s a whole other set of rules (and not appealing ones) when it comes to women. The term ‘zero tolerance’ has become a punch line, too often more machismo than substance, just a shadow of what should be a firm message for the demographic that makes up 45 percent of the league’s fan base.
Will it get better and when?
That the Vikings deactivated Peterson and Panthers did likewise with Greg Hardy are reactionary moves. As the NFL waits for the winds of anger to blow over, new cases, like that of Jonathan Dwyer, come to the forefront and old wounds are re-opened.
Like the winds of change, those winds are turning too slowly with too many negative messages recently for healing, if not learning, to begin.
For a league so eager to protect its shield that is the worst possible outcome, not only in its ignorance, but in that it has to be pressured to protect so large a segment of its fanbase and workforce.
Federovitch is a former sports reporter and editor with the Trenton Times.