I started playing football with my brother’s friends when I was 8 years old, and though baseball turned out to be my sport of choice, I can understand what love of a sport feels like. With the recent outcry over the NFL’s decision to give a 2-game suspension to Ray Rice after his domestic violence dispute caught on camera, discussion is emerging about how football itself might be at the root of the problem. This week the NFL issued new punishment rules for instances of domestic violence and sexual assault by players. This new standard includes a six-game suspension for a first offense, and banishment from the league for a second offense. Mario Tama in the New Yorker explains,
There are, however, caveats: the first suspension could be shorter or longer, depending on “mitigating factors”; and anyone who is kicked out for a second offense will be able to apply for reinstatement after a year. The new policy also includes calls for increased training and counseling for league employees.
Howard Bryant, author of the book “Juicing” discusses on NPR the absurdity of the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice case, and how this evidences the lack of severity the league has historically taken towards behaviors that don’t directly affect player performance on the field. Currently, players have received longer suspensions for illegal quarterback sacks during a game, and one player received a year-long suspension for smoking pot.
Bryant’s discussion was most interesting for his prediction that the violence and drugs necessary on the field, might be at the root of the way players behave off of the field. Not only suggesting that domestic violence disputes could be a direct byproduct of “Roid Rage,” common to the sport, but also that the expectation that these men can easily turn the aggression on and off to navigate between their professional and personal lives may be presumptuous.
Bryant didn’t seem to pose this as an excuse, but rather as a call for psychological support in addition to just punitive measures for these players. Is the dichotomy between on and off the field that much different than any individual’s professional and personal divide? Doesn’t the shark of an attorney have to learn to leave his aggression in the courtroom, just as much as the police officer has to leave his stress on the job? Or is there something inherently different about football that we need to treat its players like veterans returning from war? Do we then have to question how important this sport is to our country? Now, I remind you, I opened sharing my understanding of a love for sport, and that means that we hold tight to everything about that sport…but baseball as it is today has surely morphed from the original game over time. Maybe we will all benefit–players, family members, and culture alike–if we lessen the similarities between the football field and the battlefield, and go a little easier on our bodies and minds when we play for sport.
-Caterina Gironda, Southern Editor